Is a pinched nerve causing my pain and stiff neck?


I found your lumbago website on the internet when I was looking to see if there is a connection between a pinched nerve, neck pain, and almost constant stiff neck and whiplash automobile injuries.

About three years ago I had a whiplash neck injury during a bad car accident when I was hit from behind by a drunk and was taken to the hospital by ambulance. I was examined and x-rayed and they said that I had no broken bones so the ER doctor gave me a prescription for pain pills and a neck brace.  He told me I would be as good as new in a few weeks.  Well, what he said was not true.  I have had neck and upper back pain and stiffness ever since the car wreck.  My neck kills me most of the time and turning my head around can be terribly painful.  Some nights I can’t sleep because of the neck pain and the tightness at the base of my skull.  When I get out of bed in the morning it takes a long time for me to be able to move my neck because it is like everything tightens up during the night.  What is the worst is the sharp pinching pain that I feel when I try to turn my head around even a little bit.

I did not go to see my own doctor even though the neck pain never went away because I thought it would eventually get better.  When the insurance company wanted to settle and pay my claim I did not ask for money for any future medical bills because I thought I was going to be OK like the doctor told me.  A few months ago I realized that the stiff neck and everything is getting worse so I called my car insurance company and they said I should have said something sooner about my neck pain and stiffness.  The agent said maybe my problem was from a pinched nerve due to arthritis because I am 55 years old.     

Do you think it is possible that my neck stiffness and neck pain never went away because I was really injured in that car accident even though the doctor said I was fine?

Thank you.  I appreciate any help you can offer and the good information on your site.

Marsha S. – Ohio


Greetings Marsha,

Your sad story is very familiar to me; I have heard in many hundreds of times before.  The ER doctor said one thing, but you heard something else.

First of all, I would have to admit I think it is indeed possible that your neck pain and stiffness and any advanced condition you might now have like a pinched nerve in your neck, could have started in that car accident you were in a few years ago.  Did I say that your neck pain definitely started because of the auto accident?  No. I said that it could have started from the auto accident, only that it is possible, because I have no way of knowing for sure.     

I think you got caught up in a common problem that occurs in these situations.  You believed the ER physician who was looking for fundamentally only two kinds of injury – immediate life threatening injury or results of trauma that requires immediate action – was doing more and saying more than you thought he was. 

In the ER setting when examining victims of an automobile crash the medical personnel are primarily concerned with major issues like broken bones, internal bleeding, and any potentially life threatening problem – and not a whole lot more than that. 

These ER physicians are a different breed of doctor who are accustomed to seeing massive bloody injuries from gun shots and limbs that are twisted and hanging on by a thread.  They have a different standard of care than your family doctor, and they have a different way of looking at things because of their ER experience.  They assess a patient on their immediate condition and their immediate need because they think in terms of what must be done immediately.  It is almost as though their training and experience makes them think that if you are not near death you are doing pretty well.  

When the ER doctor did not see that kind of problem when he examined you he told you that you were fine.  After all, you did write that you were told you “had no broken bones.”  I would be greatly surprised if you asked that ER today what he meant when he said you were “fine,” he would respond that he meant you were not in any immediate or significant danger – and not much more than that.  Your assumption that he was assessing your condition on a deeper scale was incorrect; your further assumption that he was saying that you would never have any delayed or residual injury as a result of your whiplash injury was also incorrect.   This lead you to believe that you had been given a thorough and complete health and wellness examination, and were found to be in good shape, even though the ER evaluation was primarily to determine if your life was in danger, if surgery was needed to stop internal bleeding, or if any other immediate measures were needed to protect your well-being. 

Even the soft tissue examination that is typically done in a hospital ER after an auto accident is performed to determine the presence of gross problems of joint separation and torn ligaments, not a stiff neck.  They tend to not be concerned with the comparatively smaller degrees of injury that can take place after car accidents that take time to develop fully and to show up as significant symptoms.  A good example of that kind of problem is a pinched nerve in the neck that might take a few years to appear.  This is true because this pinching or nerve pressure can be due to something called spinal stenosis or degenerative disc disease that can take months to years to develop after the accident that started the process.  The ER doctor is not thinking in those terms.         

The ER doctor could not have known and did not comment on what might happen to you a few months or a few years later in relation to the effects of your automobile accident.    

However, at this time, in addition to neck stiffness and upper back pain, it appears you also have a problem with your insurance company in terms of a residual neck injury that might be casually related to the auto accident you were in a few years back.  For this reason I suggest you hire an attorney to represent you.  I suggest that you ask a few people whose opinion you trust, preferably family and friends who also have used a personal injury attorney, to get a referral for reliable and competent legal representation.  Please do not go to someone because he has a nice billboard on the highway or because she runs TV ads all the time.  You want an attorney who will protect and guide you to help you receive whatever level of care is appropriate.

My guess is that you will be referred by this attorney to an orthopedic doctor or a chiropractor who is skilled in this area of post-traumatic injury.  This doctor will know how to tie all this together for you from a medicolegal standpoint, as well as provide correct treatment for the pinched nerve in our neck or whatever has been causing your neck to be so stiff and painful for the last three years.

These cases are seldom easy and never play out smoothly.  Place your confidence in a good attorney and let him do the worrying for you.  Good luck to you.   DL