The human spine and back are highly complex networks of muscles, bones, joints, nerves, tendons, and ligaments. The spine protects the spinal cord – one of the most vital yet delicate parts of the body.
Even if in a low-impact car accident, back injuries are common. The spine and back just aren’t designed to take the impact of a car accident, even at low speeds. Even minor back injuries can lead to back pain that has a significant effect on your daily life.
Types of Back Injuries Caused by Car Accidents
The spine is divided into three areas:
- Cervical Spine: This is the neck.
- Thoracic Spine: This is the upper back. It extends to the mid-back. This is the part of the spine that connects to the ribs and chest. Injuries to this area are the most serious.
- Lumbar Spine: This is the lower back – where the five largest vertebrae are located. It is also home to the strongest muscles in the back. This area is what provides stability for the back.
Each part of the spinal cord and vertebral column is surrounded by discs, tendons, muscles, ligaments, and nerves. Injuries to any of these parts can result in back pain and numbness. Depending on the nature and extent of the back injury from the car accident, the pain may be anywhere from a mild annoyance to completely debilitating. It may be temporary or permanent.
Back pain may not always be immediate. However, if there’s an issue with the back that’s left untreated after a car crash, you could deal with serious long-term effects.
Soft Tissue Injuries
Whiplash is among the most common injuries caused by car accident. Caused by sudden, violent head and neck movement at impact, whiplash damages muscles, ligaments, and other soft tissues in the neck. It’s most common in rear-end collisions as the head and neck move forward, with the rest of the body staying still.
Whiplash can cause dizziness, pain, and stiffness, may not be readily apparent. It can take several hours to a few days after the car accident to feel. Injuries typically require physical therapy to heal but generally do not cause any permanent damage.
Sprains are injuries to the connective tissue bands that connect two bones. They often heal on their own with rest, ice, compression, and elevation. More severe sprains may require surgery to repair ligaments.
A strain is an injury to the muscle or connective tissue that attaches a muscle to a bone. More severe strains may require physical therapy to recover. Surgery isn’t necessary for most situations. Muscle spasms are common with strains since the muscle is injured.
Symptoms include swelling, bruising, hearing, or feeling a “pop” in the joint at the time of injury. X-ray and MRI may be used to rule out fractures and to determine the extent of the damage.
Spinal fractures are common in car accidents where the seatbelt doesn’t adequately hold the body in place. The body’s lower half remains still while the head and torso are jolted. The most common type of spinal fracture is known as a compression fracture. It’s a small crack along the vertebrae. Back pain and other symptoms in the area with the fracture. You may feel more pain with breathing, walking, or sitting down, depending on where the fracture is. You may also experience numbness or tingling and muscle weakness.
Depending on the severity of the fracture, you may require surgery. You may be able to heal with immobilization and rest.
Each vertebra in your spine is cushioned by a spongey material known as a disc. The force of car accidents may cause the discs to shift out of place. It compresses nerves leading to back pain and numbness. You may also hear this referred to as a bulging disc, slipped disc, or ruptured disc.
In most situations, physical therapy and other non-invasive treatments are used for pain relief. If the herniation is severe or impacts other parts of the body (such as bladder and bowel control), you may require surgery.
Facet Joint Injuries
Facet joints connect between the bones of the spine. Nerve roots go through the joints to and from the spinal cord to parts of the body. Car accident victims may experience damage to the joints themselves or the cartilage that cushions the joint. These injuries are diagnosed with imaging and treated according to their severity.
This condition occurs when stress fractures in the spine force vertebrae to move out of place. When this happens, nerves may be compressed. The spinal canal itself may also compress. As a result, you may experience back pain, numbness, and difficulty walking.
The treatment for this condition varies based on the location of the displaced vertebrae and the extent of the displacement. Physical therapy is used in mild cases, while surgery is reserved for severe instances.
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal. Over time, this can put pressure on the nerves that travel through the spine. As a result, you may feel back pain, numbness and tingling, and muscle weakness.
Back injuries caused by car accidents don’t typically cause spinal stenosis. However, after an auto accident, someone with asymptomatic stenosis may start to feel symptoms.
Spinal Cord Injuries
Spinal cord injuries are serious. If the spinal cord is bruised due to the impact, it can lead to temporary paralysis. If the impact severs the spinal cord, the resulting paralysis is permanent. If the back injury occurs in the cervical spine, the resulting paralysis is quadriplegia. If the damage occurs in the lumbar spine, the paralysis is usually paraplegia, where there’s no feeling or movement below the waist.
Back Injuries from Car Accident Treatment
No matter how minor the car accident, always seek medical treatment. Be aware that injuries don’t show up immediately. Even if an x-ray comes back normal, this imaging cannot see the soft tissue in your back. You may need an MRI or CT scan to diagnose issues with discs.
Minor injuries are most often treated with over-the-counter pain relief medications and anti-inflammatories. You may also be prescribed a muscle relaxer to use in the short term. Your doctor will advise you to rest and apply heat or ice as needed.
Your doctor may also refer you to a physical therapist who can prescribe a series of stretches and exercises to help you regain strength after the accident.
In the case of more severe injuries caused by car crash where surgery is required, you may spend time in the hospital. You should always follow the doctor’s orders after discharge. After a certain period, you may also use physical therapy in your rehabilitation efforts.
Car Accident Lawyers Ready to Help You
Even if your medical treatment only requires medications and physical therapy, your life is disrupted. You have medical expenses, lost wages from time out of work to recover and go to appointments. In more severe injuries, you may not ever be able to return to your normal after surgery and recovery.
If you recently suffered a back injury in a car accident resulting from another driver’s negligence, you might be entitled to compensation to help with medical expenses. Our team of personal injury attorneys can give you a free case evaluation. Contact us as soon as possible to find out how we can help.