How long after an accident does a serious back injury take to heal?

The recovery period for lower back pain after an accident varies based on the severity of the injury, and the specific cause of the pain.

By Brad Nakase, Attorney

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How long does it take to get over a back injury?

Back injuries range in levels of severity. There are minor injuries such as sprains, and more major injuries like spinal cord damage.  In many accident cases of mild to moderate whiplash-associated lower back pain, the injury may heal within a few weeks. For mild spinal cord injuries causing lower back pain, improvement might be noticeable within a few months with pain management, physical therapy, and rehabilitation. However, more severe spinal cord injuries, such as fractures, herniated discs, or nerve damage, can take longer to heal, requiring extensive medical treatment, possibly surgery, and physical therapy.

Many Americans deal with minor back pain at some point in their lives, whether it is due to work, overexertion, car accidents, or other mishaps. When an individual suffers an injury to their back, which plays such a critical role in everyday movement and function, it is normal for he or she to wonder when the pain will go away, and the injury heal.

Car accidents, especially rear-end collisions, can cause whiplash or other back injuries due to sudden, forceful movements. Accidents involving slipping on wet or uneven surfaces, tripping over obstacles, or falling from heights can result in back injuries. Slipping on wet floors, icy surfaces, or tripping over obstacles in public spaces or homes can lead to back injuries upon impact.

Below we will review the average healing times for different kinds of back injuries:

  • Muscle strains and sprains

More minor back injuries such as muscle strains, pulls, and sprains typically heal within a few weeks. If there are tears in the muscle, the individual may require surgery to repair the damage. After surgery, it is normal to take a few months to recover from the operation.

In general, minor back pain demands plenty of rest. An individual’s doctor may recommend hot or cold therapy and painkillers like Ibuprofen. If an individual’s pain gets worse, he or she should revisit the doctor for revised treatment.

  • Spinal cord injuries

Some of the most serious back injuries involve damage to the spinal cord. These injuries typically result from serious trauma as occurs in a car accident. When a car collides with another vehicle, the force of the impact can cause the discs of the spine to slip or be thrown out of alignment. The spine’s vertebrae protect the spinal cord in the manner of armor. When they are thus damaged, the spinal cord is vulnerable to injury.

The Mayo Clinic lists symptoms of a spinal cord injury as the following:

  • Loss of bladder or bowel function
  • Movement loss
  • Sexual function issues
  • Loss of ability to feel certain sensation, like hot or cold
  • Stinging or pain from nerve damage
  • Spasms
  • Coughing or trouble breathing

In bad cases, injuries to the spinal cord may result in partial or full paralysis. The seriousness of the injury will impact the specific healing time. When a spinal cord injury is involved, treatment is considered critical. Waiting too long to see a doctor about spinal cord damage can impact recovery.

For most spinal injuries, healing starts about a week to six months following the accident that caused the damage. Sometimes, recovery may not be possible, as in certain cases involving paralysis. Typically, an individual can expect to see the most improvement in their condition within the first six months. That said, the majority of individuals will observe slight healing up until two years afterward. If an individual does not recover their physical functions within the first year of healing, these functions are not likely to come back.

When should I see a doctor for back pain after an accident?

After an individual suffers a back pain from an accident, it is critical that they see a doctor immediately for the following symptoms:

  • Persistent Pain: If back pain continues for more than a few days despite rest and over-the-counter pain medications, see a doctor for the back injury.
  • Severe Pain or Intensity Increase: Intensifying back pain, especially if it becomes severe and interferes with daily activities or sleep, warrants a doctor’s evaluation of the back injury.
  • Concern for Spinal Issues: If there are concerns about spinal conditions or prior spinal surgeries, any new or worsening back pain should require a doctor’s examination of the back injury.
  • Numbness or Tingling: If back pain is accompanied by numbness, tingling, or weakness in the legs, arms, or elsewhere, it could be a symptom of spinal cord nerve damage, and you should see a doctor for the back injury. You should also contact a California spinal cord injury lawyer to receive compensation fro the liable person.
  • Pain after Injury: Back pain following an accident, fall, or significant trauma should prompt immediate medical attention to rule out severe injuries like fractures or spinal cord injury.
  • Fever or Infection Signs: Back pain accompanied by fever, chills, or signs of infection (such as redness, swelling, or warmth around the affected area) should be evaluated by a doctor for the back injury.
  • Bowel or Bladder Issues: Difficulty controlling bladder or bowel function along with back pain might signal a severe condition like cauda equina syndrome that requires medical attention for the back injury.

If an individual suffered back injuries in an accident, he or she has legal rights. It is important to record the details of their injuries after the accident. This may be done in the following way:

  • If immediate medical attention is needed, call 911
  • Report the accident to the property owner or police, according to the manner of injury
  • Take photos of the scene of the accident, or have a lawyer or loved one do so to collect evidence
  • Speak to those who witnessed the accident; get their names and contact information
  • Preserve all copies of receipts, medical bills, and documents showing the costs of the injuries
  • Obtain copies of the accident report and any medical records
  • Call a personal injury lawyer for representation and help getting a settlement

It is important not to wait to see a doctor for back injuries, even if treatment was not needed at the scene of the accident. Seeing a doctor is crucial because:

  • An individual will need to know the full extent of their injuries and what future treatment they may require.
  • Back injuries tend to need quick attention, and without it, they can get worse.

How do you treat a back injury?

Minor back injuries are the source of most back pain. If an individual has a minor injury to their back, it might heal in a month or less. A doctor may suggest treatments such as:

  • Rest combined with normal activities that don’t aggravate the injury
  • Avoiding activities that make pain worse or require heavy lifting
  • Physical therapy
  • Surgery, in serious cases
  • Over-the-counter or prescription medications

More serious back injuries take longer to heal. Some injuries never heal entirely and may necessitate long-term treatment and assistance. The severity of an injury and its prognosis will depend on how the injury occurred, the kind of injury, and the individual’s overall health.

Certain kinds of back pain can show up down the road, rather than immediately after an accident. For instance, an individual may not take note of an injury to their back directly after an accident. Due to shock and adrenaline, it may take time to realize that he or she is experiencing pain or discomfort due to the accident.

Can I get compensation for a back injury?

Following an accident, it is best to wait until after a back injury heals before seeking compensation. That said, it can take a long time for certain injuries to heal, and there is a deadline to filing a personal injury claim. In California, the statute of limitations is two years. If an individual tries to file a claim after that time, the courts will dismiss it as ineligible.

It is important to contact a personal injury lawyer who can document the injury and guide an individual through the claim process. If a victim requires long-term care, he or she will need help covering the costs. The person at-fault for the accident may be held responsible for the damages.

Have a quick question? We answered nearly 2000 FAQs.

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