Updated on April 18th, 2023
The spinal column extends from the base of the skull to the tip of the tailbone. This column is composed of 33 vertebrae, all of which send neural signals to the brain and to the rest of the body. A car accident can easily injure a part of the spinal cord or column, leading to issues with the rest of the body.
A car accident can result in a number of different back injuries, though many problems result from whiplash. Whiplash injures the soft tissue and can cause many other serious spinal issues. These injuries include sprains, strains, herniated discs, and fractures. Also, if an individual suffered previous problems such as spinal stenosis, then a car collision can worsen the preexisting condition. In this article, our personal injury attorney in Los Angeles explains common spine injury from car accidents.
The symptoms of a back injury after a car crash can vary greatly, and an individual may suffer from one or more types of injury. It can also be difficult to diagnose the exact cause of pain without running tests. This is because different injuries may present similar symptoms.
Lumbar or Thoracic Vertebrae Fractures
A spinal fracture occurs when one or more vertebrae crack, break, or are otherwise injured. The human body has 33 bones that protect the spinal cord and make up the backbone. When one of these is injured, the individual may be said to have a broken back. A doctor may use the following terms to describe a back fracture:
- Burst Fracture
- This occurs when multiple parts of the vertebrae are crushed and bone fragments have scattered.
- Flexion Fractures
- This is when a vertebra breaks; fractures usually happen in the middle or posterior columns of the spine.
- Compression Fracture
- When too much pressure is applied, there can be cracks or breaks in the vertebrae
- This is a combination of a fracture and a dislocation of the vertebra or vertebrae.
Back Sprains and Strains
When an individual suffers a back strain, this means that their soft tissue is overstretched, which causes injury. A strain refers to the tendons of the back, which connect the bones to muscles. By contrast, a back sprain causes damage to the ligaments that connect joints to bones or bones to other bones.
Sprains and strains alike can cause pain that is hard to get rid of. Because imaging cannot pick up on this kind of injury, it is important to talk about the possibility with one’s doctor.
A car accident can result in the discs of the spine shifting and compressing, causing what is known as a herniated disc. A herniated disc happens when the inner part of the spinal disc is forced out through the outer ring.
A doctor may use the terms bulging, slipped, or ruptured to refer to a herniate disc. This is a serious condition because the part that protrudes can rub against nerves. This can cause numbness, burning, or weakness that affects other parts of the body.
This condition occurs when a vertebra is displaced by a stress fracture. When the vertebrae move, the motion can compress the spinal cord or nerves. The amount of movement and its location affect pain levels and the appropriate treatment. Usually, sufferers experience pain, weakness and numbness. They may also find it difficult to walk.
Facet Joint Injuries
Facet joints are located between the bones of the spine. Nerve roots run through the joints into different regions of the body, such as the legs and arms. Facet joints allow an individual to bend or twist without damaging the spine. A damaged facet joint, however, can cause pain.
Thinning cartilage or previous untreated trauma to the spine can cause problems with facet joints. Muscles may spasm or tighten as a result, which can cause the outside of the back to feel tender or endure radiating pain.
Damage to the spinal discs can cause discogenic pain. This kind of discomfort includes sharp pains or shooting sensations. It can cause sciatica, which means that pain radiates through the buttocks and on to the feet, groin, or both legs.
Discogenic pain can cause people to feel uncomfortable in a number of different ways. Some people feel better lying down, while others may find that lying down triggers more pain. Any activity that lasts for an extended period can make the pain worse.
Degenerative Spinal Disorders
If an individual suffers a severe injury to his or her back, they may get a degenerative disc disorder months or years in the future. It can also encourage other unknown health problems. As the human body ages, previous injury combines with degeneration may result in:
- Bulging discs
- Degenerative scoliosis
- Spinal osteoarthritis
- Spinal osteoarthritis
- Bone spurs
- Degenerative disc disease
- Herniated discs
- Spinal stenosis
- Pinched nerves
- Foraminal stenosis
When the spaces between the vertebra narrow, pressure is put on the spinal cord, which can lead to weakness, numbness, and pain.
Spinal Cord Damage
Tearing, bruising, nicking, or stretching of the spinal cord can lead to impaired motion and sensation. In fact, some individuals may be permanently paralyzed in the body below the site of injury.
What Are Symptoms of a Car Accident Spine Injury?
After a car crash, it is common to feel sore, which can make it hard to determine which pain is related to the back specifically. It can be helpful to know what to expect after an accident in order to decide what to do next.
Because the spine includes the large area from the neck to the pelvis, pain can radiate to many different regions of the body. After a car accident, back pain may come from inflammation, fractures, and compressed nerves. The symptoms may be uncomfortable but manageable, or they may make everyday tasks impossible to perform.
After a car accident, one may experience any of the following medical issues:
- Muscle spasms
A muscle may repeatedly twitch, feel like a hard knot, or feel tender when touched. Muscle spasms vary when it comes to pain; they may be mild or debilitating.
- Burning pain
A harsh pain may move down one’s back and buttocks through the back of both legs. This can be a mild pain that goes away, or it can be a burning discomfort that lasts for days.
An individual may not feet as flexible after a car accident due to their muscles tensing up. This kind of stiffness may go away after some stretching, or it may be continuous.
- Sharp pain
Changing positions, such as sitting up or standing, can cause a sharp pain in one’s back.
- Pain when walking or standing
Sometimes, physical activity in itself is painful, causing a throbbing sensation or mild pain when one does daily tasks.
- Tingling or numbness
Because the spinal cord connects the body’s limbs, tense muscles can pinch nerves, which may lead to feelings of tingling or numbness in the hands, feet, legs, or arms.
However, if an individual is experiencing headaches, disorientation, or dizziness after a car collision, then it is likely he or she has endured damage to their cervical vertebrae from whiplash.
It is important that an individual make note of their symptoms, including tracking what activities worsen the pain and how often the discomfort occurs.
What Treatment Can Help Spinal Pain After an Accident?
After an individual experiences a car accident, it is important they he or she goes to the doctor for an evaluation. Even if a victim does not need to go to the emergency room, it is still important to see an orthopedic specialist to rule out any serious problems and ensure that any physical activities will not pose an issue.
For instance, simple activities like folding clothes and petting a cat can trigger pain after a car accident. This can make the problem worse, leading to a longer recovery time and more severe damage.
A doctor may ask for an x-ray or MRI to check if there is disc damage or degeneration. Discography can identify specific problematic discs. He or she can also examine any injuries, assess mobility issues, and suggest possible therapies.
Treatment for back pain after a car accident will depend on the injury type, severity, and location. A back brace, rest, and gentle stretching can help relieve some symptoms from whiplash. That said, an individual may require further care or a referral to a spine surgeon. Our Los Angeles car accident attorney can help you obtain medical treatment as follows:
- Physical therapy
- Corticosteroid injections
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Spine surgery
Some injuries, caused by whiplash or a herniated disc, may respond to painkillers and rest, or even physical therapy. Other injuries may require extensive surgery to replace or strengthen the spine. Paralysis is one of the most severe consequences of a car accident, as it is hardest to treat. If the spinal cord has been severed completely, then an individual may be permanently paralyzed.
If an individual has suffered a compression fracture, there are two common surgeries used to treat it. The first operation involved injecting acrylic cement into the fracture to strengthen the bone. The second operation involved placing a tube with a balloon into the fracture. Inflated, the balloon gives the vertebrae the proper height so that acrylic cement may be injected into the cavity to strengthen the bone.
The most important aspect of a patient’s recovery is his or her support network. A spinal injury can affect one’s family life, so it is critical to have the support of one’s spouse and loved ones.