What Is Motor Vehicle Injury?

Motor vehicle accidents are a common occurrence; it has been estimated that up to 70% of the adults in the U.S. will be in a motor vehicle accident at some point in their life. Moreover, it has been suggested that nearly 50 million people around the world are injured every year in motor vehicle accidents.

It has been estimated that as many as one in ten individuals will develop widespread, chronic pain over any four year period. Of these individuals, approximately 50% will report that their pain is the result of a motor vehicle accident, surgery, or fracture. Between 5-7% of individuals involved in a motor vehicle accident are reported to be at least partially disabled from the injuries they sustained.

Car accident.Following a motor vehicle accident, patients most commonly report cervical facet joint pain, followed by intervertebral disc pain, and there is a small portion of accident victims that report both cervical facet joint pain and intervertebral disc pain.

There are a number of other injuries that individuals report following a motor vehicle accident, including:

  • Fractures
  • Ligament tears
  • Head trauma
  • Internal bleeding
  • Abrasions
  • Spinal cord injuries

In addition to physical injuries, accident victims are at an increased risk of suffering from acute stress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a motor vehicle accident. These psychological conditions can exacerbate physical pain symptoms. It is therefore important that the treatment plan for motor vehicle accident victims addresses both physical and psychological symptoms that the patient is experiencing.

Causes Of Motor Vehicle Injury

Whiplash concept.The most common type of injury suffered in a motor vehicle accident is an acceleration-deceleration injury, commonly known as whiplash. Whiplash affects the joints in the cervical spine and can lead to chronic cervical spine pain. Whiplash can lead to extended disability and chronic pain symptoms that can be experienced for several years after the accident.

Studies have recently been conducted using high-speed cameras. The results have shown that following a rear impact collision, the lower cervical vertebrae in the neck hyperextend while the upper cervical vertebrae in the neck hyperflex, resulting in an atypical cervical curve. This atypical motion of the spine can lead to damage and irritation of the cervical facets joints as well as the surrounding musculature.

Disc pain or degeneration is also commonly seen after a motor vehicle accident. The intervertebral discs provide support and shock absorption for the spinal column and also allow for flexibility of the spine. Following a motor vehicle accident, these discs can become injured resulting in inflammation, compression, and damage thereby leading to chronic pain.

Treatments For Motor Vehicle Injury

Various treatments exist for patients suffering from chronic, widespread pain caused by a motor vehicle accident. Conservative options involving home treatment are recommended for patients suffering from mild chronic pain. Additional therapies can be offered to patients who are suffering from more intense pain. Many patients suffering with chronic pain are prescribed some form of analgesic medication for pain control.

There are many studies that support physical therapy treatment shortly after sustaining a motor vehicle injury. Physical therapy may involve hands-on mobilization as well as specific stretching and strengthening exercises to reduce pain, improve range of motion, and improve overall function. Research has shown that individuals seeking physical therapy treatment immediately after an accident are more likely to maintain the positive results that they experience from treatment.

After a motor vehicle accident, individuals may be prescribed a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication to help relieve their chronic pain. These types of medications help to reduce inflammation and thereby help to reduce pain. Corticosteroids may also be recommended to reduce pain and inflammation.

Pain-Doctor-Radiofrequency-Ablation-Procedure-8If patients do not respond to conservative pain management therapies, more aggressive treatment options may be needed. More aggressive therapies include radiofrequency ablation, medial branch blocks, and facet joint injections. Radiofrequency ablation involves sending a high frequency current into the tissue to disturb nerve function, which interferes with the nerve’s ability to transmit pain signals. Medial branch blocks and facet joint injections involving injecting medications into the facet joint in an effort to block the transmission of pain signals to the brain.

Motor vehicle accident victims should receive care soon after the accident to minimize the damage to the tissues caused by inflammation. Additionally, early intervention will also help to reposition and realign injured joints and soft tissue and will help patients to maintain positive results.

An alternative therapy that may help with symptom management includes biofeedback training. This technique helps teach relaxation techniques and coping strategies that allow patients to be in control of some of their pain symptoms. Acupuncture may also provide pain relief for some individuals after a motor vehicle accident.


Common conditions that occur after motor vehicle accidents include whiplash and intervertebral disc injuries and the pain associated with these conditions can persist for years after the accident. There are numerous treatment options for pain associated with motor vehicle injury. Speaking with your doctor will help to determine what the best treatment plan is for your condition.


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