A traumatic neck injury is a neck injury caused by some outside force (trauma), such as a car accident.

In this article, I will talk about common causes of traumatic neck injuries, their usual symptoms and the most common types of traumatic neck injuries.

Common Causes Of Traumatic Neck Injury

These are some of the common causes of a traumatic neck injury . . .

  • auto accidents.
  • rear-end collisions.
  • motorcycle accidents.
  • truck accidents.
  • slip and fall accidents.
  • sports activities.
  • work-related accidents.

Common Symptoms Of Traumatic Neck Injury

The most common symptoms of a traumatic neck injury are . . .

  • pain in your neck.
  • headaches.
  • pain in your shoulder, arm or hand.
  • reduced range of motion in your neck.
  • numbness, weakness and slower reflexes in your arms and hands.
  • muscle spasms in your neck.

When you report your symptoms to your doctor, s/he will diagnose your problem.

Let’s look at some of the possible neck injuries that you may have.

Common Types Of Traumatic Neck Injury

To understand traumatic neck injuries, you have to know something about the anatomy of your neck.

Cervical Spine

The neck consists of the top 7 vertebrae (bones) of the spine. The medical name for this area is the “cervical spine.” Logically, cervical bones are identified by the letter “C” (as in cervical) and then the number of the bone, counting from the top. Accordingly, C3 is the third cervical vertebrae from the top of the spine.

Thoracic Spine

There are 12 thoracic vertebrae which begin at about the chest level. They are identified by the letter . . . that’s right “T” . . . and the number of the bone, counting from the top.

Lumbar Spine

Below the thoracic spine, there are 5 lumbar vertebrae (L1 through L5). Lastly, you have the sacrum (S-1) and then the coccyx bones.


If the bones of the spine were simply stacked on top of each other, your spine would be inflexible. As a result, you couldn’t bend over, twist or make other movements of your spine.

Flexibility exists because of spongy discs that are between each bone in the spine. The discs allow for movement and act like a shock absorber to cushion the bones of the spine as you twist, jump and move your spine.

For reasons that will become clear, discs are sometimes analogized to jelly donuts. The outer part, which is actually called the annulus fibrosis, holds in the inner “jelly,” which is actually called the nucleus pulposus.

The spine also includes the surrounding “soft tissues” including muscles, ligaments, tendons, blood vessels and nerves.


The spinal cord originates at the brain and the nerves travel down the spinal canal. As it descends, the spinal cord gives off smaller nerves that leave the spine between each vertebra through an opening called the foramen.

Nerves that leave the spine in the cervical area travel into the arms and hands. Meanwhile, the nerves that leave the spine in the thoracic area mostly go into the chest and stomach. Finally, the nerves that leave the spinal canal in the lumbar spine area travel into the legs and feet.

In summary, the cervical spine consists of the first 7 vertebrae, the discs between them and the surrounding muscles, ligaments, tendons, blood vessels and nerves.

The top 2 cervical discs, called the atlas (C1) and the axis (C2), differ from the other vertebrae because they are designed specifically for rotation as opposed to holding up the head.

The cervical spine is very flexible, however it is also at risk for injury from strong, sudden movements, such as whiplash-type actions. This high risk of harm is due to the limited muscle support in the neck, and the fact that this part of the spine has to support the weight of the head. Unfortunately, this is a lot of weight for a small, thin set of bones and soft tissues to bear. As a result, sudden, strong head movement can cause neck damage.

Let’s look at the most common types of traumatic neck injury . . .

Neck Sprain

Ligaments are bands of fibrous tissue that connect bones together and help to stabilize joints. When those ligaments are stretched or torn in the neck, the result is a neck sprain. Pain and stiffness can follow.

Neck Strain

There are also muscles in the neck. When those muscles are stretched or torn, a neck strain results. Sometimes, these are called “pulled muscles.” Often, they occur when the muscles are suddenly and powerfully contracted or when they stretch unusually far.

Neck sprains and neck strains are sometimes called “hyperflexion-hyperextension injuries” or “whiplash.”

Cervical Radiculopathy (Pinched Nerve)

Cervical nerves leave the spinal cord in the cervical spine area and travel down into the arm. Along the way, the nerves supply sensation (feeling) to a part of the skin of the shoulder and arm. In addition, they supply electrical signals to certain muscles to move part of the arm or hand. However, when a nerve is irritated or pinched, by either a bone spur or a fragment of a herniated (ruptured) disc, the nerves do not work properly. The result can be weakness in the muscles the nerve goes to, numbness in the skin where the nerve goes, or pain in the area where the nerve travels. Cervical radiculopathy is the name given to this phenomenon.

Herniated Disc

When neck motion puts too much pressure on a disc, a herniated disc may result. Sometimes these are called “slipped discs” or “ruptured discs.” In this injury, the annulus is torn and part of the nucleus pulposus squeezes out. In the jelly donut analogy, the jelly comes out of the donut. If the tear is on the side of the disc adjoining the spinal canal, the nucleus pulposus can press against the spinal nerves. This pressure can cause pain, numbness and weakness along the nerve. There is also evidence that the chemicals released from the ruptured disc may irritate the nerve root, leading to some of the symptoms of a herniated disc, especially pain.

Once your doctor diagnoses your traumatic neck injury, s/he will prescribe treatment. That can be anything from conservative treatment, such as medications and rest, through surgery, depending on the injury.

What Does A Neck Injury Lawyer Do?

A traumatic neck injury lawyer analyzes all aspects of your case, including liability issues and the nature and extent of your injuries and damages.

Your lawyer studies your medical records . . . and contacts your doctors . . . to determine the nature of your neck injury and the extent of it.

Then, the neck injury lawyer marshals the evidence of the injury and its effects on your life and determines the best way to present the evidence convincingly to often cynical and suspicious insurance adjusters or jurors.

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If you have suffered a serious neck injury due to someone’s carelessness, such as in an accident, contact us.

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