What Are the Warning Signs of a Serious Head, Neck or Back Injury?
When you get hurt in a car accident, at work, or playing a sport, it can be hard to know if your injury is serious. This is especially true when some side effects do not show up until after the injury happens.
For instance, you may have lingering pain or other symptoms in the days or weeks after being treated by EMTs or in the emergency room. How do you know if these are serious enough to see a doctor?
Some aches and pains are common and not dangerous. However, there are several head, neck, and back symptoms that should not be ignored. These issues are especially serious when you have more than one at a time, as they can indicate an injury that needs to be treated.
As a general rule, it is important to see a doctor if you have a head, neck, or back pain after an accident that lasts more than a few days or suddenly gets much worse.
Because the head, neck, and back are all connected, some injuries cause problems in multiple areas. This may make it difficult to know what the problem is. Reading about the symptoms of serious injuries can help you know when it’s time to see the doctor. If you’re in the Chicago area, the doctors and therapists at La Clinica can give you a free consultation to assess your symptoms.
Headaches After an Injury
Headaches are a common complaint for many people. However, if headaches start after a car or work accident, they might be related to an injury. Headaches caused by injuries sometimes do not start until days or weeks after the accident occurs.
Headaches can be caused by various injuries that affect the head, neck, and back. Many headaches, such as those caused by stress or hormones, are not serious. However, some can indicate brain damage from an injury. It’s important to have your post-accident headaches checked out by a doctor.
Muscle strain headaches
Some headaches are caused when the muscles of the neck, head, or back are injured or strained. This is common in accidents on the road or at work, as well as in many sports collisions. Some symptoms that may accompany this type of headache include:
- Reduced range of motion
- Pain during certain movements
- Soreness or swelling in the affected muscles
A concussion is a brain injury that is usually caused by a hard blow to the head or neck. This causes a bruise that makes the brain swell. Headaches associated with concussions can also cause:
- Sensitivity to light or sounds
- Slurred speech
- Sleep problems
Concussions are serious injuries that require assessment by a doctor.
Headaches from pinched nerves
Sometimes an accident can cause the bones of the neck to press on or “pinch” the nerves. This can cause symptoms in the back of the neck and head including:
- Mild or severe pain
- Tenderness when touched
- Numbness or tingling
Headaches that start after an accident can be a sign of a serious injury. Be sure to check with a medical professional if you are having any of these symptoms.
Neck Pain After an Accident
Many injuries can cause neck pain, but one of the most common neck problems resulting from an accident is whiplash.
Whiplash is a neck injury that can also cause head and back problems. Whiplash occurs when there is a sudden collision. This type of injury is commonly caused by getting rear-ended in a car accident or playing contact sports such as football or hockey. Symptoms include:
- Neck pain or stiffness
- Lower back pain
- Arm or hand pain (or numbness)
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
- Sleep issues
Whiplash can affect the muscles, discs, nerves, and tendons in your neck. It’s important to see a doctor if you have signs of whiplash or other neck pain after an accident. The doctor can diagnose your problem and develop a personalized plan to help you address it.
Related: Neck Muscle Strain – Overview, Causes & How to Treat
Injuries That Cause Back Pain
While back pain may result from an injury that also affects the neck and head, such as whiplash, there are some other common back problems caused by accidents.
Soft tissue back injury
Some back pain after an accident is due to damage to the soft tissue. This includes the muscles, tendons, and ligaments that support the bones of the back. Soft tissue damage could be a pulled muscle or even a torn ligament. The most common symptoms of soft tissue damage in the back are:
- Mild to severe back pain that doesn’t go away
- Muscle cramps or spasms (sudden, uncontrollable muscle tightening)
- Stiffness in the back
- Decreased range of motion or activity (for example, difficulty walking or bending normally)
Back pain after an accident or fall can be caused by a herniated disc. Discs are the cushions that separate and protect the bones in the back. A herniated disc occurs when a disc is pushed out of place. Symptoms of this type of back injury include:
- Sudden, intense pain in the low back
- Numbness in the legs
Spinal cord injury
The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that runs down the middle of your back. The nerves carry signals between your body and your brain. A spinal cord injury disrupts those signals. A spinal cord injury is usually caused when one of the bones in the back, called vertebrae, is broken. The most severe spinal cord injuries can result in paralysis. Many spinal cord injuries are less severe but still require medical attention. A doctor will assess the injury and provide treatment to reduce long-term effects.
Some common symptoms of spinal cord injuries are:
- Neck and back pain
- Reduced range of motion
- Burning sensation moving down arms
- Numbness or weakness in arms or hands
Is Your Head, Neck, or Back Pain Serious?
You may notice that some symptoms are the same for multiple types of injuries to the head, neck, and back. Only a medical professional can diagnose your injury and advise if treatment is recommended.
If you are experiencing one or more of the symptoms in this article after an accident or injury, make an appointment for a free consultation with LaClinica doctors. From Elgin to Aurora to Blue Island, we have numerous convenient clinic locations in the Greater Chicago area.