Shattered glass, the urgent pull of a seat belt, the pain as you ricochet against your steering wheel. In one unexpected moment, your life can be turned upside down.
Car accidents are an emotionally and physically traumatic event, but the trauma placed on your neck and back can lead to lifelong pain. If you're suffering neck and back pain after a car accident, do not hesitate to contact an experienced auto accident attorney near me today!
Why Are Car Accidents Dangerous?
The severity of car accident injuries can vary depending on the type of collision, but even minor accidents can cause traumatic injuries. As a vehicle collides with another object, the inertia of the opposing force causes everything in the vehicle - including the driver and passengers - to move in that direction. However, the constricted space of the vehicle will only allow so much room for that forward momentum.
Instead, a seat belt, the steering wheel, dashboard or car door - or worse, the pavement - is going to stop that forward motion. This restrictive force reverses all of the energy that was pushing an individual forward, and instead propels them backward. The body absorbs this force, known as kinetic energy, and generates immense pressure on the areas which receive the brunt of impact.
In most auto accident cases, the upper half of the body will be absorbing most of this impact. In particular, the back and neck receive a tremendous amount of pressure. This rapid forward and backward motion can result in a variety of injuries, even if the car is moving at a slow speed.
Common Back and Neck Injuries After a Collision
Car accidents can inflict trauma on several areas of the body, especially the neck and back. The impact of an auto accident often results in symptoms that effect the musculoskeletal system - the medical term for the bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and soft tissue that make up the body.
Auto accidents particularly affect the spinal column, a major structure within this system. The spine is composed of 33 small bones called vertebrae, and runs from the base of the skull down to the tailbone. Small cushioning pads called spinal discs are located between each vertebrae; they act as shock absorbers and help to hold the spine together.
Within the spinal column is the spinal cord, a thin, long structure composed of nervous tissue. This structure is critical to our daily life, as it transmits messages between the body and the brain. When the spinal cord is impinged by damage to the spine, the results can range from chronic pain to paralysis.
From the upper neck down to the lower back, car accidents force the spine to absorb more pressure than it can handle. This results in damage to the spinal vertebrae and discs, accompanying joints and muscles, and even the nerves that run throughout them.
Discogenic pain results from damage to the spinal discs. Typically these discs help us to maintain stability while acting as a cushioning system for the spine. But the impact of a collision causes discs to absorb an overwhelming amount of pressure that they cannot bear.
A healthy disc will degenerate and dehydrate naturally over time, becoming thinner and more prone to damage as we get older. However, the sudden trauma of a car accident can have the same effect as years of wear and tear on spinal discs - in a single instant. In response, discs can rupture, slip from their natural alignment within the spine, or bulge.
Likewise, degenerative disc disease (DDD), the condition in which discs gradually deteriorate, can have an early onset, causing a young individual to suffer pain, limited range of motion, and stiffness prematurely.
A herniated disc is one of the most common causes of discogenic pain. A herniated disc results when a crack in the disc's outer layer allows some of the softer inner material to protrude out of the disc. This material leaks into the spinal column, irritating nearby nerve roots. Depending on the location of the herniated disc, this injury causes pain, burning, numbness, tingling, and/or weakness in an arm or leg.
Herniated discs commonly occur in the lower back, known as a lumbar herniated disc, or in the neck, known as a cervical herniated disc. A severe herniated disc requires medication, physical therapy, and possible surgery.
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal column, which impinges on the spinal cord and nerve roots located within the channel. As with DDD, spinal stenosis normally is the result of natural aging. However, stenosis can result from from the trauma of a car accident.
In these cases, a herniated disc or fragment of bone which was displaced due to the accident's force can invade the spinal canal space. This applies pressure to the nerves and cord, causing numbness, tingling, pain, muscle weakness, and impaired bladder or bowel control.
Spinal stenosis pain can be chronic, lasting for years, or even be lifelong. Treatment typically involves medication, physical therapy, and manual treatment such as chiropractic or massage therapy. However, surgery is often needed to remove the invasive material and widen the canal to remove pressure from surrounding tissue.
Sprains and Strains
Sprains and strains frequently result from car accidents. A sprain is the stretching or tearing of ligaments, while a strain is the stretching or tearing of muscle or tendon. These injuries are so common in vehicle collisions because the force of impact causes the body to move rapidly forward, then propel backward, overextending the normal range of the tissue.
This physical trauma causes tissue to stretch to unsafe proportions, typically resulting in sprains in the lower back and neck. Sprains and strains are often unable to be diagnosed by medical imaging, and rely on doctor examination and patient consultation. For this reason, it is critical to visit a doctor as soon as possible following an accident, so that any present damage can be properly documented.
Sprains and strains may heal on their own with the application of ice, rest, and ibuprofen. However, other more serious strains will require surgery to fix the damage, and physical therapy to regain range of motion.
Whiplash (Neck Strain)
As discussed within sprains and strains, these injuries often occur in the lower back or neck. However, we typically refer to a neck strain by a more recognizable name: whiplash.
Whiplash is arguably the most common car accident injury, and can occur even when a vehicle is traveling less than 12 mph. A rear-end collision generally causes more damage to the neck than other types of crashes, however, even when the head moves sideways or backwards initially, damage can still occur.
Whiplash occurs when the head rushes forward and immediately propels backwards, overextending the muscles and tendons of the neck. Symptoms of whiplash may develop hours or days after the time of the accident, and symptoms are often long lasting.
- Symptoms of whiplash can last 6 months or longer for 75% of victims.
- Whiplash injuries require long-term medical follow-up for more than 60% of victims.
- Whiplash victims will still have chronic pain 20 years after the injury in 50% of cases.
This is why, even if whiplash symptoms are not present immediately, you must not hesitate to visit a medical professional for examination. Whiplash injuries can pose a serious medical and financial threat. Speak with a whiplash injury attorney for help seeking compensation for your whiplash injury.
Facet Joint Injury
Facet joints connect each vertebrae of the spine to the bone located above and below. Their main role is to prevent the spine from moving too much in one direction or the other, while also helping to support the overall weight of the body.
Facet joint injury typically occurs during a whiplash injury to the neck. During the stretching motion, the facets become torn away from one another, damaging their protective cartilage or dislocating the facet itself.
This type of injury often requires a strict treatment regimen to relieve pain and inflammation, but can also require surgery to replace the facet to its proper position. In addition to the medical image testing required to identify the injury, medical bills for facet joint injuries can pile up quickly.
The force of a car accident frequently leads to broken bones. Fractures commonly occur in the extremities, facial bones, and the collarbone. This can be explained by the ricocheting of the upper body between the car seat and the dashboard, steering wheel, and door of the vehicle.
A bone fracture can range in severity from a hairline fracture, which is a small crack in the bone, to a compound fracture, which occurs when the broken bone punctures the skin. Broken bones can take 6 to 12 weeks to heal, and can displace a victim from their normal schedule. Lost wages, future medical care to include physical rehabilitation or follow-up surgery, and multiple doctor's visits are often the foundation of a personal injury claim for a car accident victim with bone fractures.
Acute Mechanical Back Pain
The back is composed of a network of bones, joints, and supporting tissue, which we've explained are known as the musculoskeletal system. When spinal discs, joints, or bones are injured, the supporting tissue often experiences pain as well. This can be from the strain of supporting the damaged structure, or pain from nearby nerve roots.
These types of injuries commonly result in mechanical pain. Mechanical back pain is the general term that refers to any type of back pain caused by placing abnormal stress and strain on muscles of the spine. This pain is very common after suffering a car crash.
Symptoms of Back and Neck Injuries
Symptoms of back and neck injuries vastly vary depending on the severity of the car accident. However, even a low-speed, low-impact accident can result in traumatic injury. After a car accident, it is crucial you visit a medical professional to diagnose any present symptoms and receive the appropriate course of treatment for your injuries.
If you begin experiencing the following symptoms after suffering a car accident, visit an emergency room, your general physician, or even a chiropractor immediately.
- Difficulty focusing
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Headaches or migraines
- Restricted range of motion
- Bump or deformity near injury
- Pain that worsens with activity
- Sagging of the shoulder, arm, or joint
- Pain in the neck, back, head, or shoulders
- A grinding sensation during movement
- Inability to lift something, or lack of mobility
- Redness, bruising, inflammation, or swelling
- Numbness, prickling, burning, or the feeling of something crawling on your skin
Back and neck injury symptoms may present immediately, such as a broken bone, or can show days after the accident, as with whiplash injuries. For this reason, it is critical to have a medical professional document present injuries. Written proof of accident injuries is the foundation of a personal injury claim and is necessary in order for potential compensation.
If you've recently been involved in a car accident that was of no-fault or limited-fault of your own, do not suffer under the weight of the medical bills for these injuries. Compensation can be possible with the help of a qualified auto accident attorney. Contact Weinstein Legal today for a free case evaluation and begin your journey to compensation today.