Photo by Matt Chesin

About half of two-vehicle accidents are rear-end crashes with those crashes causing 1,700 deaths per year. What happens to your body in a rear-end collision?

The effects on your body depend largely on the speed of the vehicles involved. If you’re at a complete stop and get rear-ended by someone traveling at a high rate of speed, you’ll likely have significant injuries.

If both vehicles are traveling at similar speeds, the impact won’t likely be as damaging.

Every accident is different, and it can be difficult to assess the full extent of your injuries without a medical exam. Being aware of the possible effects helps you know what to look for after the accident.

Keep reading to understand how a rear-end accident affects the body and what types of injuries it may cause.

How Do Rear-End Accidents Happen?

It’s often the person who hits your vehicle from behind who is at fault for the accident.

People who follow your vehicle too closely don’t have enough time to avoid a collision if you suddenly stop or slow down. You need even more space between you and the next vehicle in slippery conditions, such as rain, snow, or sleet.

Rear-end collisions can also happen due to distracted driving. A driver who isn’t paying attention may not realize traffic is stopped at a stoplight or has slowed down for some reason. When the driver realizes it, there’s not enough time to stop.

Impaired driving is a similar situation. When someone is under the influence of drugs and alcohol, their reactions are impaired, and they may not be able to avoid a collision. Driving while sleepy slows reaction time and can also lead to a crash.

In some cases, mechanical failure can cause a crash. The brakes on the vehicle behind you may fail.

Other times, the driver may have a medical emergency that causes the crash.

What Happens to Your Body in a Rear-End Collision?

When another vehicle hits you from behind, the momentum from that vehicle’s speed transfers to your vehicle. It forces your car forward suddenly.

Everything in the vehicle, including your body, absorbs that momentum. That means you’ll fly forward suddenly along with the car.

You’ll snap back just as suddenly and hit against the seat.

Because you often have no warning of the impact, you can’t prepare yourself for it. Your head usually flies forward violently and snaps backward. This can cause injuries throughout your upper body.

Even low-speed accidents cause an impact that jars the body. That sudden jerking motion causes injuries.

Most injuries in rear-end accidents affect the neck, back, head, and chest. Injuries can be external or internal, affecting the organs, bones, and soft tissues.

Your organs can move within their cavities inside the body. That means all the momentum of the car hitting you from behind goes into the organs and the rest of your body.

When you stop moving, your organs can slam into the other structures in your body. Your brain can slam into the skull.

That internal collision can cause minor to severe damage to your organs, including tears and ruptures.


The sudden impact from behind often throws your body forward and then backward. When your head flies forward and backward suddenly in that way, it can cause whiplash. It’s the most common rear-end collision injury.

The muscles and ligaments in your neck stretch beyond normal when whiplash happens. It’s a muscle strain in the neck.

Pain and stiffness are the most common symptoms. You may also have headaches, blurry vision, and dizziness.

If the pain moves into your arms or causes numbness and weakness in your arms, check with your doctor.

Broken Bones

It’s possible to fracture bones in the rear-end accident. Your ribs are the most common bones you’ll break in this type of crash. The seatbelt or airbag can crack your ribs during the impact.

You can break other limbs, although it’s not as common when you’re hit from behind. You might break a limb if it hits something hard in the car. You can also fracture your skill if it hits something.

Back Pain

Your back is very susceptible to injury during a crash from behind.

One potential cause of back pain after a rear-end accident is a herniated disk. This happens when there’s a tear in the disk. The disk bulges and can press against nerves.

A herniated disk can cause varying degrees of back pain. It can also affect other body parts, causing tingling, pain. and numbness in your limbs, especially your legs.

Strains in the back can also cause pain. They usually heal on their own with rest.

Spinal Cord Injuries

In severe cases, you may experience a spinal cord injury. Damage to your spinal cord can cause paralysis, either partial or full.

You may be able to regain some of your movement with extensive therapy. Other times, the damage is permanent and nothing can reverse the paralysis.


A concussion happens when your brain hits the inside of your skull. This can happen if your head hits the steering wheel, dashboard, seat in front of you, or another object in the car.

If you hit your head, it’s important to watch for signs of concussions for at least 24 hours, as the symptoms don’t always show up right away.

Symptoms of a concussion can include:

  • Headache
  • Vision changes
  • Dizziness
  • Sound and light sensitivity
  • Confusion
  • Balance issues
  • Nausea
  • Concentration difficulty
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Mood or behavior changes

If you don’t treat the concussion, it can cause more severe problems.

Traumatic Brain Injuries

Traumatic brain injuries aren’t as common in rear-end crashes if you’re properly restrained. But they can happen if your head hits something in the car hard enough. This most often happens if you’re not wearing your seatbelt and you get thrown into the dash.

Like all injuries, brain injuries differ in severity. Some brain injuries are permanent and life-altering. In some people, they result in death.

Long-Term Effects

Minor injuries typically heal over time, and you may return to a normal life.

More severe injuries can leave you with long-term side effects. Pain may continue for months or years after the accident, sometimes never fully going away.

You may have long-term or permanent limitations in your mobility. Damage to your back or neck may limit your movement.

Therapy can help improve some of these effects, but others may linger. They can change your quality of life or affect your ability to work.

When Do Injuries Appear?

You may see and feel some of your injuries immediately. But others aren’t immediately apparent.

When the accident happens, your body produces lots of endorphins and adrenaline. It’s a natural response to a stressful or dangerous situation.

Those natural chemicals often mask pain in the body. Even if an injury happens immediately in the accident, you may not feel it. It isn’t until you calm down hours or days later that you feel the pain.

Or you may not feel the full pain right away. As the adrenaline and endorphins wear off, the pain levels may increase.

Another possibility is a minor injury getting worse over time. A herniated disk caused in the accident might become more severe over time.

Whiplash often shows up right away or within 24 hours, but the symptoms can sometimes take a few days to appear.

Pay close attention to your body and the symptoms you feel after the accident. Make note of any new symptoms that appear or symptoms that get worse. Go back to the doctor if you notice those changes.

What to Do After a Rear-End Accident

Taking the correct steps after an accident can make a difference in your recovery and in the insurance payout you receive.

Your first step should always be to get yourself medical care if you need it. If you suspect a serious injury, such as a head or spinal injury, call 911 to have paramedics help.

Even if you don’t feel like you’re hurt, it’s a good idea to go to the doctor on your own. You may just feel a little sore now, but there could be underlying injuries that aren’t showing their symptoms yet.

Call the local police to report the accident if there’s damage to vehicles or property. New York requires all people involved in the accident to file a report within 10 days if anyone has more than $1,001 in property damage.

You’re required to report the accident immediately to the police if there are injuries or deaths.

Exchange contact and insurance information with all parties involved in the accident. It’s also a good idea to get contact info from the witnesses before you leave the scene.

Importance of Seeking Medical Treatment

Don’t underestimate the importance of seeing a doctor after the accident. Just because you feel okay doesn’t mean you’re injury-free.

If you get checked out immediately, your accident doctor may be able to spot injuries you don’t yet feel. That early detection allows you to get treatment right away instead of delaying.

Earlier treatment may help you recover faster or keep the injury from worsening. It can also help you avoid severe pain by getting ahead of the injury.

If you’re expecting an insurance payout, heading to the doctor right away can help you with your case. It shows that you need medical attention and that you’re taking a proactive stance on handling your auto injuries.

If you wait, it may look like you’re not injured badly.

The insurance adjuster can also argue that your injuries got worse because you didn’t take care of them right away.

Say you didn’t feel the back pain from herniated disks right away. You wait a few days to go to the doctor once the pain gets worse. The insurance company may say you could have done something else to injure your back after the accident or that you made the injury worse by delaying your treatment.

Find a doctor who specializes in your type of injury. For a back injury, you might seek chiropractic treatment, orthopedic services, or a general care practitioner.

Receiving Compensation for Your Injuries

If you’re hit from behind, the other driver’s insurance company may pay your claim. Insurance may cover vehicle damage, medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Avoid accepting any settlement offers right after the accident. The insurance company will likely try to push you into a settlement for a low amount to cut down on what they pay.

If you sign, you’re agreeing that you won’t pursue any legal action or additional compensation. That means you’re out of luck if a new injury shows up after the accident.

Hiring a personal injury attorney who specializes in car accidents can help you get more out of your settlement. Attorneys know how to put a monetary value on pain and suffering, lost wages, and other financial losses you have due to the accident.

Lawyers investigate accidents thoroughly and look over every detail to build your case.

Your personal injury attorney can also deal with the insurance company for you. Since they’re experienced in dealing with insurance companies, they know what strategies they use and how to overcome those strategies. Lawyers can use their aggressive tactics to convince the insurance company to give you a higher settlement.

You won’t have to pay an hourly fee to your attorney. Car accident lawyers usually use a contingency fee system. That means they keep a portion of your settlement amount.

The common fee is 33% of your settlement, but it can vary between 25% and 40%. That may seem like a lot, but your lawyer will often get you a much larger settlement than you would get on your own.

Handling Rear-End Accidents

What happens to your body in a rear-end collision? The impact can cause significant injury to your back, neck, and head depending on the severity of the crash. Getting the right medical treatment immediately can help you recover faster.

If you’ve been in a rear-end accident, get your injuries checked out immediately. We’ve put together a list of the top-rated car accident doctors to help you find a medical provider to get on your way to recovery.

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.