Accidents (such as auto accidents, semi-truck accidents, or premises liability cases such as slip and falls) are one of the leading causes of orthopaedic spine injuries in the United States. Some spinal injuries are so severe that a victim cannot resume their daily routine without experiencing some form of discomfort.
That’s why it’s important to seek medical attention immediately after an auto accident and/or you start experiencing pain symptoms. A physician can then take a look at your injuries and prescribe the ideal treatment before you aggravate the injury, or worse, the pain becomes unbearable.
How Do Accidents Cause Back Injuries?
In an auto accident, your vehicle experiences a sudden halt when it comes into contact with another vehicle or concrete body. Unfortunately, the Law of Inertia dictates that your body will still be in motion until it is violently stopped by either the seat belt, the steering wheel, the windshield, or in extreme cases, direct impact with the other vehicle or the road. Vehicles are made to withstand impacts from other vehicles but our bodies are not.
This violent motion can injure three main regions of the spine: the thoracic vertebrae, the cervical vertebrae, and the lumbar vertebrae. You can experience the effects of these injuries on either the muscles, bones, or nerves.
What Are the Common Symptoms of an Injured Spine After an Auto Accident?
Symptoms you experience after an auto accident largely depend on the type of spinal injury you sustain. Generally, accident victims tend to have one or more of the following symptoms:
- Numbness and Radiating pain- Since nerves in your spine are attached to your limbs, you may experience a tingling or numbing sensation in your hands, feet, or both. The pain can radiate into your upper or lower extremities such as your arms, hands, legs and feet.
- Discomfort in movement- Any physical motion becomes extremely uncomfortable. Movement can cause the onset of slight pain or an excruciating sensation that renders one incapable of performing regular activities.
- Stiffness- After an auto accident, you might feel extremely stiff, or your muscles might tighten up. Stiffness could be temporary or chronic depending on the severity of the injury.
- Excruciating pain- For severe injuries, searing pain will radiate over your entire all through your limbs. The pain could last for a few hours or several days.
Other symptoms you might experience include disorientation, dizziness, and headaches.
What Types of Orthopaedic Spine Injuries Arise From an Auto Accident?
Different types of orthopaedic spine injuries can be sustained after an auto accident. However, it’s difficult to know the exact injury you have because these injuries tend to have similar symptoms. The only way to know for sure is by seeking medical treatment through a doctor, such as an orthopaedic spine surgeon or pain management specialist who will take x-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (“MRI”) to determine the severity and extent of your injuries. Common orthopaedic injuries are the following:
- Degenerative Spinal Disorder- Traumatic injury to the spine can cause degenerative disc disorder which gradually causes discomfort to the spine and can extend for months or years. It can also aggravate underlying degenerative conditions that you suffered from before the accident. Even if you had asymptomatic degenerative disc disease before an accident, the trauma experienced from an accident can make your degenerative disc disease symptomatic. Degeneration also results in pinched nerves, bone spurs, herniated discs, and bulging discs.
- Discogenic Pain- When your spinal disc is damaged from an auto accident, you experience what is known as discogenic pain. This is a stinging pain that radiates through your legs and groin. When suffering from discogenic pain, you may experience discomfort from simple activities such as lying down, sitting, or standing—which can especially aggravate the discomfort.
- Facet Joint Injuries- Facet joints are located between spinal bones. These joints have nerve roots that move through the spine, which are then connected to different parts of the body such as the legs and arms. The joints are what make you flexible enough to turn your spine in different directions without injuring it. Unfortunately, when these joints are damaged by trauma from an accident, they compress the nerve roots, radiating immense pain through your arms and legs. Your muscles will tighten, and the pain can continue for months.
- Spondylolisthesis- This condition is caused by the displacement of vertebrae as a result of trauma. Once the vertebra is displaced, it compresses the spinal nerves and spinal canal. The severity of displacement can result in excruciating pain. The pain is so intense that accident victims generally experience weakness and find it hard to walk.
- Herniated Discs- After an auto accident, trauma to the spine can cause spinal discs to shift and compress on the nerves along with the spinal cord. This results in what is known as a herniated disc. As the protruding portion of the disc rubs against the nerves, it causes weakness, pain, and numbness that radiates through the entire body.
Therefore, treatment after an accident may vary depending on the location, the severity, and the type of injury sustained. Treatment may include the use of pain management techniques such as corticosteroid or epidural injections, anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, or in severe cases, spinal surgery.
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