Spinal Injuries from a Motor Vehicle Accident/Collision
Dr. Alex Jimenez, El Paso's Chiropractor
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Spinal Injuries from a Motor Vehicle Accident/Collision

Accident/Collisions are seeing a rise and along with those crashes are spinal injuries. What you need to know about:

  • Accident-related injuries
  • Treatment
  • Recovery
  • Legal issues

We take a risk, however small, every time we get in the car/truck, of being involved in a car wreck that results in injuries and specifically a spinal injury/s. The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center has seen that motor vehicle accidents/collisions with the majority being car/truck accidents.

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However, with all the construction taking place nowadays, excavators, bulldozers, steamrollers, forklifts, and other vehicles are also seeing a rise in accidents. This is also generating a rise in spinal cord injury/s. Auto accidents are now ranked as the number one cause of spinal injury. The risk of an accident is small and the risk of a resulting serious spine injury is smaller still, it’s not anything. What you need to know about a motor vehicle accident/collision includes:

  • Injuries
  • Treatment
  • Recovery
  • Insurance
  • Legal issues

Common Motor Vehicle Accidents/Collisions

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Whiplash

Whiplash is one of the most typical injuries following an accident, especially when rear-ended or a rear-end collision. Its a neck injury that happens when the neck snaps suddenly back and forth causing trauma to the tissues in the neck. Symptoms often develop a few days after the accident including:

  1. Limited neck movement
  2. Stiffness and pain in the neck
  3. Pain or tenderness in the upper back, shoulders, and arms
  4. Numbness or tingling in the arms
  5. Dizzyness
  6. Headaches starting at the base of the skull
  7. Problems with concentration or memory
  8. Ringing in the ears
  9. Sleep issues
  10. Depression

Herniated Disc

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The discs in the spine cushion the vertebrae by absorbing the weight, force, and overall impact of a regular day. They are made of a soft, gel-like substance in the center that behaves like the gel in foot orthotics, shoes, mattresses, etc made to feel soft and comfortable. It has a tough outer membrane.

A herniated disc happens when that soft gel springs a leak/s out from a tear, meaning the shock-absorbing cushion has been compromised and is not delivering the absorption it’s supposed to and places added pressure on the surrounding nerve/s and roots. Herniations can happen naturally from age and from jobs that involve consistent and constant repetitive:

  • Pushing
  • Pulling
  • Bending
  • Twisting

Herniations also happen after going through some type of physical trauma like a motor vehicle accident/collision. Symptoms depend on where the herniation occurs and include:

  • Muscle weakness around the affected nerve/s
  • Sharp shooting pain that can spread out from the shoulders to the arms, legs and low back
  • Tingling in arms or legs
  • Numbness
  • There could also be no symptoms and no discovery of a herniated disc until tested for something else.

Vertebral Fractures

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The vertebrae are highly susceptible to fractures of all types and can appear at any spot along the spine. For many, the injuries are mild and heal with non-surgical treatment and time. Major trauma to the spine can cause severe injuries/conditions which include:

Burst fractures

This is where the vertebra fractures in multiple places into bony fragments that fall into the spinal cord getting lodged inside with the jagged edges of the bones creating tears, cuts, etc that can result in paralysis and even death.

Flexion fracture

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This is an injury seen in head-on collisions where the upper part of the body gets thrown forward and the bottom part stays in place likely from the seatbelt. This tears the vertebra apart resulting in a flexion teardrop fracture.

Vertebral compression

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These types cause the front of the vertebra to collapse while the back keeps its position that forms a wedge-like shape. However, more often it is associated with osteoporosis, healthy individuals can experience a vertebral compression fracture from a serious traumatic event like an auto accident. Fractures can cause mild to severe pain that is exacerbated with movement. If the spinal cord is injured the individual could experience:

  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Weakness in the limbs
  • Loss of bladder/bowel function

Because of the increased safety features in today’s vehicles, fractures of the spine are rare except for severe motor vehicle accidents/collisions.

Diagnosis and treatment

A doctor will review medical history along with the accident information. Imaging tests will follow like:

  • X-ray
  • CT or computed tomography scan
  • MRI or magnetic resonance imaging

The way these techniques of imaging are done depends on the accident and the state of the spine. Being brought into the hospital from a motor vehicle accident/collision with a suspected spinal injury means the imaging will be done first to rule out or not potentially life-threatening injury/s to the spine. Treatment for spinal injuries can range from:

  • Soft collar
  • Chiropractic
  • Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications
  • Corticosteroid injection/s
  • Nerve blocks
  • Physical therapy
  • Surgery to correct certain injuries when all other forms of treatment are not working

Recovery

Every case, accident, and injury is different, and depends on several factors, like age, health, and how severe the accident/collision was. Severe and extreme injures like a burst fracture can take a long time to heal.

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Legal Issues

Individuals with a spinal injury can face thousands in medical bills. If there is medical equipment involved along with therapeutic services for long-term care, like physical therapy then bills will accumulate.

Also, a personal injury claim could be necessary to pay for everything, especially, if the accident/collision is no fault of your own. Compensation could help with:

  • Loss of employment
  • Employment benefits
  • Wages lost
  • Ability to work/earn income
  • Medical expenses
  • Pain
  • Suffering
  • Consult with a specialist when considering filing a personal injury claim

Work Compensation

If a spinal injury accident happens at work there could be worker’s compensation. Workers’ compensation is insurance that replaces wages and medical benefits to workers that have been injured while doing their job. These are injuries that happened during the operation of a motor vehicle, like a truck, or forklift. The worker must file an injury report immediately so there is documentation supporting the injury claim. Waiting to file can make the employer question if there even was an injury. A workers’ compensation claim works differently than a personal injury claim, based primarily on what is covered under the job’s insurance policies.

An example is the legal term pain and suffering. This is not covered by workers’ compensation. However, a work training accident would be covered by work comp in the event that the individual cannot return to their job/occupation after the injury. However, any injury/s after a motor vehicle accident/collision should never be taken lightly or ignored. Individuals must be proactive in their treatment after an accident/collision. This is to prevent and avoid further injury.

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The scope of our information is limited to chiropractic, musculoskeletal, physical medicines, wellness, and sensitive health issues and/or functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions. We use functional health & wellness protocols to treat and support care for injuries or disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Our posts, topics, subjects, and insights cover clinical matters, issues, and topics that relate and support directly or indirectly our clinical scope of practice.*

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