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Spinal Injuries Caused by Car Accidents

Spinal injuries are fairly common in car accidents and can range in severity. According to the Mayo Clinic, automobile and motorcycle crashes are the leading cause of injuries to the spinal cord. The spinal cord can be damaged when trauma occurs to the cervical, thoracic, or lumbar regions of the vertebral column and result in permanent paralysis. Other types of injuries to the vertebral column might be less severe but lead to chronic and debilitating pain and other symptoms. Because of the potential severity of spinal injuries from car accidents, these types of injuries might require extensive treatment and long periods of recovery. Serious spinal injuries might result in permanent disabilities that require lifelong care.

Divisions of the Vertebral Column

The vertebral column is comprised of the vertebrae and the discs between them that encase the spinal cord and protect it. The vertebrae are 33 bones that are separated by facet joints and discs made out of cartilage. The facet joints and discs allow movement and flexibility.

The vertebral column is divided into the following regions:

  • Cervical region- Located in the upper back and neck and comprised of seven vertebrae
  • Thoracic region - Located in the mid back and comprised of 12 vertebrae
  • Lumbar region - Located in the lower back and comprised of five vertebrae
  • Sacral region - Located below the lumbar spine and comprised of five fused vertebrae
  • Coccyx - The lowest area of the vertebral column comprised of four fused vertebrae and commonly referred to as the tailbone

Injuries from car accidents primarily occur in the cervical, lumbar, and thoracic regions of the spine and can involve damage to the vertebrae, discs, and/or the spinal cord itself. If a car accident injury impacts the spinal cord, including bruising, tearing, or severing it, the victim might suffer permanent paralysis below the site of the injury.

Paralysis occurs when the spinal cord and the nerves that enervate it are permanently damaged, resulting in the loss of sensation, the ability to move areas of the body, and the loss of bodily functions below the site of the injury. Paralysis can be incomplete or complete. When someone suffers incomplete paralysis, they retain limited motor function and sensation below the injury site. In complete paralysis, the victim loses all motor and sensory functions below the site of the injury.

Spinal cord injuries are typically identified by the region of the vertebral column that is affected and the vertebrae that comprise it. The different regions of the spine correspond to the areas of the body that might lose sensation or function when the spinal cord is damaged.

In addition to spinal cord injuries, some other spinal column injuries that can happen in car accidents are discussed below.

Common Types of Spine Injuries From Car Accidents Whiplash Injuries

Whiplash is the most common type of injury that can happen in a rear-end collision. This injury occurs when an occupant of a motor vehicle is suddenly thrown forward before returning backward in a rapid back-and-forth movement. This sharp acceleration of the head and neck followed by a rapid deceleration can cause whiplash, which involves injuries to the muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the neck and cervical spine. Whiplash can cause stiffness, pain, and a loss of mobility in the neck. The symptoms of whiplash can vary based on the severity of the injury and might not develop until hours or several days after the accident. Some of the common symptoms of whiplash include the following:

  • Stiffness in the upper back and neck
  • Pain in the upper back and neck
  • Loss of mobility in the neck
  • Dizziness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Headaches originating from the base of the skull
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Tingling or numbness in the arms
Ruptured or Herniated Discs

The discs between the spine cushion the vertebrae and prevent them from rubbing together. When a car accident happens, the discs can shift, tear, or rupture. The center of the discs is made up of a jelly-like substance that can leak when they rupture. Ruptured or herniated discs can cause radiating pain and numbness. The symptoms of a herniated disc vary based on the disc's location and can include the following:

  • Sharp pain that radiates down the shoulders into the arms or from the lower back to the legs
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms or legs
  • Weakness in the muscles surrounding the affected nerves
Fractured Vertebrae

In a car accident, a victim can be violently jerked in one direction and then the other. This sudden movement can place tremendous pressure on the vertebral column and can cause fractures anywhere along it. When a vertebra is fractured, it can place pressure on the spine or shift. When this happens, the victim can develop a condition called spondylolisthesis, which causes numbness and pain in different areas of the body and a potential loss of bladder control.

Vertebral fractures can also cause moderate or severe pain that worsens with movement. If the spinal cord is also injured, the victim might experience weakness, numbness, or tingling in the limbs or lose control of their bladder and bowel functions.

Facet Joint Injuries

The facet joints are located between each vertebra and work like hinges to facilitate movement. They are separated by thin cartilage layers so that they can slide. Facet joint injuries occur when the inside cartilage layer is torn, leading to inflammation and pain. The facet joints can also be separated or dislocated from each other in a car accident.

Spinal Cord Injuries

As previously mentioned, the spinal cord can be damaged because of pressure placed on it by a ruptured disc or fractured vertebrae, bruising, or tears. It can also be severed in a catastrophic collision. Spinal cord injuries are among the most devastating injuries that can happen in motor vehicle collisions. If the spinal cord is severed, it can't be repaired. Prompt treatment of a spinal cord injury can potentially prevent worsened symptoms when the injury involves bruising, swelling, or small tears to the spinal cord. If you experience any of the following symptoms of a possible spinal cord injury after a car crash, you should seek immediate medical attention:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Loss of movement or sensation
  • Inability to feel temperature differences
  • Muscle weakness
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Pinching or stinging sensation along the spine
  • Digestive problems
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Loss of bladder and/or bowel control

The most devasting effect of an injury to the spinal cord is paralysis from the site of the injury and below. Paraplegia involves paralysis of the lower limbs or from the waist down following a spinal injury in the thoracic or lumbar region. Quadriplegia involves paralysis of all four limbs following a spinal cord injury in the thoracic or cervical regions of the spine. With an upper thoracic spinal cord injury, the victim might retain partial sensation and movement of the arms.

Exacerbation of Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the space between the bones of the vertebral column and the spinal cord. While this condition is not caused by motor vehicle accidents, it can be asymptomatic before a crash but become symptomatic following a collision. This can lead to symptoms and complications including pain and numbness.

Spinal Injury Costs

The costs involved in treating spinal injuries from car accidents can vary widely, depending on the type of injury and its severity. While mild whiplash injuries might only involve a few weeks of treatment and a short recovery period, a spinal cord injury can require lifelong care and rehabilitation that involve extensive costs. An injury attorney at the law firm of Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers, APC can analyze your case and help to determine the lifetime expected costs involved with your injury to properly value your claim. Your medical expenses, ongoing care costs, and other losses might be recoverable in an auto accident claim against the at-fault party.

Damages in a Car Accident Claim Involving Spine Injuries

The compensatory damages you might recover in a collision involving an injury to your spine will depend on the extent and severity of your injury and other factors. The following categories of compensatory damages might be available in an auto accident lawsuit:

  • Emergency department care
  • Past and future medical bills
  • Past and future physical therapy and rehabilitation costs
  • Attendant care
  • Past and future income losses
  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Emotional trauma
  • Disability
  • Disfigurement
  • Reduced enjoyment of life
  • Loss of consortium
Consult an Attorney

If you suffered a spine injury in a car crash because of the actions of someone else, you should reach out to the law firm of Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers, APC. Call us to request a free case evaluation today at 866.966.5240.

Client Reviews
I have known Steven for some time now and when his services were required he jumped in and took control of my cases. I had two and they were handled with the utmost professionalism and courtesy. He went the extra mile regardless of the bumps in the road. I can not see me using any other attorney and I would recommend him to any of my family and friends. Josie A.
Steven was vital during our most trying time. He was referred by a friend after an accident that involved a family member. While he was critical and lying in the hospital, Steven was kind, patient and knowledgeable about what we were going through. Following our loss, Steven became a tough and aggressive negotiator and made sure that we receive a huge compensation. I would refer Steven in fact, this happened 2 years ago and I still speak highly of his service. Cheryl S.
Mr. Sweat is a pitbull in the courtroom as well as settlement negotiations - You can't have a better equipped attorney in your corner! It is a pleasure working as colleagues together on numerous cases. He can get the job done. Jonathan K.
Because of Steven Sweat, my medical support was taken care of. Plus, I had more money to spare for my other bills. Steven is not only an excellent personal injury lawyer, providing the best legal advice, but also a professional lawyer who goes beyond his call of duty just to help his clients! He stood up for me and helped me get through the process. I would definitely recommend. I couldn't think of any better lawyer than him. MiraJane C.
I must tell anyone, if you need a great attorney, Steve sweat is the guy! I had an awful car accident and had no idea where to turn. He had so much to deal with because my accident was a 4 car pile up. Not to mention all the other cars were behind me and they were not wanting to settle in any way! He never stopped working for me and had my best interest at heart! Audra W.
I believe I made the best choice with Steven M Sweat, Personal Injury. I was very reluctant to go forward with my personal injury claim. I had a valid claim and I needed a professional attorney to handle it. I felt so much better when I let Steven take my case. His team did everything right and I am very satisfied. Stia P.
I have to say that Steve has been exemplary! I met Steve at a point with my case that I was ready to give up. He took the time and dealt with all of my concerns. Most importantly, he was present and listened to what I was going through. He was able to turn things around, put me and my case on the right track! The results were better that expected! Highly recommend!! Cody A.