Even a seemingly minor accident can cause back injuries, in part because the human body simply isn't designed to absorb the jarring impact of a car accident, even a low-speed collision. And in turn, even a seemingly minor back injury can have a significant impact on your daily life. This article looks at common types of back injuries caused by car accidents, how those injuries might be treated, and what to do if you've suffered a back injury after a car crash.
The spine can be divided into three distinct areas: cervical vertebrae (neck), thoracic vertebrae (upper back), and lumbar vertebrae (lower back). Each section of the spinal cord and its vertebrae are surrounded by discs, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves, which if injured can cause varying degrees of pain -- from mild to debilitating, and from temporary to permanent.
Thoracic Spine Injuries. Generally, injuries to the thoracic spine are the most serious. The thoracic spine, or upper back, connects to the ribs and chest region. Sprains and fractures in this area are primarily caused by high velocity auto accidents, and may result in permanent nerve damage.
Lumbar Spine Injuries. The lumbar spine is comprised of the five largest vertebrae and the strongest of the muscles necessary to provide stability for the spine. Therefore, a sprain or strain to the lumbar spine can prove particularly painful. A sprain involves actual damage to the ligaments, while a strain is a stretching of the ligaments, tendons or muscles. Either injury may result in limited movement, swelling, bruising, and tenderness, and may severely impact your ability to perform daily activities.
Herniated Discs. Some car accident victims experience herniated discs. Discs are the cushions that separate the vertebrae and protect the spine. A herniated disc occurs when a disc is displaced. Often, the herniated disc then places pressure on the spinal cord or its surrounding nerves. Sudden and intense pain in the lower region of the back and numbness in the legs are the most commonly reported symptoms.
Spinal Cord Injuries. The most serious back injuries involve the spinal cord. Such injuries range from bruising or excessive pressure to permanent damage to the spinal cord and nerves -- leading to long term disability. Spinal cord injuries often result in total or partial paralysis, loss of feeling in certain areas of the body, and loss of reflex function. Further, depending on the type of injury or treatment received, victims of spinal cord injuries may also be at risk for secondary medical problems, such as infection due to surgery, blood clots, bleeding, pneumonia, and spinal fluid leaks.
After a car accident, back injuries can be diagnosed -- and their severity determined -- through the use of x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, myelograms, and bone scans. Once a diagnosis is made, treatment varies according to the type and severity of the injury sustained. Many back injuries require only short-term, temporary treatment -- such as pain medication, injections for inflammation, physical therapy, and chiropractic care.
Serious back injuries may require the use of surgical procedures to alleviate pressure on the spinal cord itself or the surrounding nerves. That can mean removing parts of vertebrae, and even fusing vertebrae together after the removal of a ruptured disk.
Because back pain is not always acute, and because post-accident endorphins can mask pain, back injuries are a great example of car accident injuries that don't show up right away. So it's crucial to watch out for any discomfort or unusual sensations, and get a thorough medical exam if you feel even the slightest level of back pain after any car accident. Not just the cost of ongoing medical care but also the impact of serious back injuries on your everyday life -- a component of "pain and suffering" -- will be a crucial piece of the puzzle in any insurance claim or car accident lawsuit.