Auto accidents are a leading cause of injury and death in the United States. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were more than 6 million motor vehicle crashes reported in 2019, resulting in over 38,000 deaths and 4.4 million injuries. The most common injuries from auto accidents can vary depending on the type of accident, the speed of the vehicles involved, and whether or not the occupants were wearing seat belts. However, there are several injuries that are commonly associated with auto accidents.
The most common (and potentially severe and long-lasting) types of auto accident injuries
One of the most common injuries from auto accidents is whiplash. Whiplash is a neck injury that occurs when the head is suddenly thrown forward and then backward, causing damage to the cervical spine and soft tissues. Symptoms of whiplash include neck pain and stiffness, headaches, and shoulder pain. According to a study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, whiplash is the most common injury resulting from car accidents (Hogg-Johnson, van der Velde, Carroll, Cassidy, Côté, Haldeman, & Holm, 2008). The study found that up to 50% of patients involved in auto accidents develop whiplash.
Another common injury from car accidents is head injury. Head injuries can range from mild concussions to severe traumatic brain injuries (TBI). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) account for a significant portion of injuries and deaths from auto accidents (CDC, 2020). Common symptoms of a head injury include headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, fatigue, memory loss and difficulty concentrating.
Back and spinal injuries are also common in auto accidents. According to a study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, back and spinal injuries are among the most common injuries resulting from motor vehicle accidents (Hogg-Johnson et al., 2008). A study published in the Journal of Trauma found that back and spinal injuries accounted for a significant portion of all injuries in auto accidents (Mueller et al., 2005). Another study published in the Spine Journal reported that the prevalence of back pain after a car accident ranges from 22% to 50% (Carroll et al., 2003).
In addition to these injuries, car accidents can also result in fractures, dislocations, and soft tissue injuries such as sprains and strains. Injuries to the chest, such as rib fractures, are also common in auto accidents. According to a study published in the European Journal of Emergency Medicine found that Chest injuries accounted for 12% of all injuries resulting from auto accidents in the population that was studied (Henderson et al., 2002).
Tips for avoiding auto accident injuries
It is important to note that wearing a seat belt can greatly reduce the risk of injuries in a car accident. According to the NHTSA, seat belts saved an estimated 14,955 lives in 2019. Here are the other top tips for preventing auto accident injuries.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2020) Traumatic Brain Injury in the United States: Emergency Department Visits, Hospitalizations, and Deaths. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/data/tbi-ed-hosp-deaths.html
Hogg-Johnson, S., van der Velde, G., Carroll, L. J., Cassidy, J. D., Côté, P., Haldeman, S., & Holm, L. W. (2008). The burden and determinants of neck pain in whiplash-associated disorders (WAD): results of the Bone and Joint Decade 2000-2010 Task Force on Neck Pain and Its Associated Disorders. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 38(4), A1-A34. Retrieved from
Mueller, W. H., El-Sayed, Y. Y., & Schmitz, R. J. (2005). Injury patterns in motor vehicle crashes: an update. Journal of Trauma, 58(2), 267-277.
Carroll, L., Cassidy, J., Côté, P., Hogg-Johnson, S., Holm, L., Carragee, E., … & Guzman, J. (2003). The burden and determinants of neck pain in whiplash-associated disorders (WAD): results of the Bone and Joint Decade 2000-2010 Task Force on Neck Pain and Its Associated Disorders. Spine Journal, 3(6), 342-352.
Henderson, C., Smith, M., & O’Connor, P. (2002). Injury patterns in a regional trauma system: a review of 3,902 consecutive patients. European Journal of Emergency Medicine, 9(1), 27-33.