How Automobile Accidents Can Cause Herniated Discs and Pinched Nerves


Automobile accidents can cause a great deal of damage to the structures of your spine as they react to forces generated by a crash. Whiplash, clinically known as cervical acceleration-deceleration (CAD) syndrome, can cause pain for years after a car crash, especially if discs become herniated and nerves are compressed.

The weight of your head is the primary reason neck injuries are so common in car crashes. About the weight of a bowling ball, momentum can cause your head to travel forward and back, tearing at the ligaments, muscles and spinal segments that support it. Sometimes it can take several days for the after-effects of a car accident to manifest as pain and other symptoms.

Some common symptoms of CAD include:

  • mild to severe neck pain
  • neck stiffness
  • pain in the shoulders and/or upper back
  • tingling, weakness, or numbness that radiates to the shoulder and down the arm
  • headache, dizziness and lack of coordination
  • neck instability, indicating possible torn ligaments or a fracture

While neck injuries are common after a car accident, other areas of the spine can be affected as well. For example, you may experience a herniated disc in your low back, with pain radiating to your hip and down your leg.

Disc Herniation and Nerve Compression

CAD sometimes causes discs in the spine to become herniated, meaning they bulge out between vertebrae. In the process, spinal nerve roots can become pinched and inflamed, causing pain, numbness or weakness that may radiate to other parts of the body. Pinched nerve pain is typically felt on only one side of the body, but it may be felt on both if more than one nerve root is compressed.

It may be difficult to diagnose a herniated disc immediately after a car accident, and its symptoms may not become evident until days after the crash. Patient history and a clinical exam are the most common diagnostic tools used to assess spinal damage after a car accident. Diagnostic imaging may be brought into play if a fracture or neurological damage is suspected.

Treatment for Herniated Discs and Pinched Nerves

There are a number of self-treatment options to help reduce the pain associated with a pinched nerve, including rest, applying ice and heat, and taking over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or naproxen, to manage pain and reduce inflammation. However, physical therapy may be the best option to repair overall damage and restore full function.

Physical therapy treatments may include:

  • DNS (dynamic neuromuscular stabilization) therapy
  • Various myofascial and neuromuscular treatments
  • Exercises for motor control
  • Range of motion exercises
  • Acupuncture
  • Individualized home exercise program

Post-Accident Spinal Treatment in NYC

The trauma of a car crash can leave an accident victim with injuries that are not readily apparent. Traditional medical treatment often focuses on pain management, without considering the complex relationship between the spine and other areas of the body.

At NYDNRehab, we take a holistic approach to diagnosing and treating post-traumatic injuries. We go beyond managing your pain to identifying and correcting the underlying mechanisms. If you were in a car accident, contact NYDNRehab today, and let us help you recover fully from your injuries so you can get on with your busy life.


In this instance, an athlete was originally diagnosed with minor quadriceps muscle strain and was treated for four weeks, with unsatisfactory results. When he came to our clinic, the muscle was not healing, and the patients’ muscle tissue had already begun to atrophy.

Upon examination using MSUS, we discovered that he had a full muscle thickness tear that had been overlooked by his previous provider. To mitigate damage and promote healing, surgery should have been performed immediately after the injury occurred. Because of misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment, the patient now has permanent damage that cannot be corrected.

The most important advantage of Ultrasound over MRI imaging is its ability to zero in on the symptomatic region and obtain imaging, with active participation and feedback from the patient. Using dynamic MSUS, we can see what happens when patients contract their muscles, something that cannot be done with MRI. From a diagnostic perspective, this interaction is invaluable.

Dynamic ultrasonography examination demonstrating
the full thickness tear and already occurring muscle atrophy
due to misdiagnosis and not referring the patient
to proper diagnostic workup

Demonstration of how very small muscle defect is made and revealed
to be a complete tear with muscle contraction
under diagnostic sonography (not possible with MRI)


Complete tear of rectus femoris
with large hematoma (blood)


Separation of muscle ends due to tear elicited
on dynamic sonography examination

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