What Should You Do if Your Back Was Injured in a Car Accident?

If you’ve suffered any sort of back injury during a motor vehicle accident you must seek medical attention immediately. The spine is fairly complex and there’s much that can go wrong. Do not leave your doctor without fully understanding their medical diagnosis and the plan for treatment.

Cars are massive pieces of metal capable of traveling at high rates of speed.  The human body, especially the spinal column, is not designed to withstand the sudden movement and force experienced in a car accident. Although there have been major automotive safety advancements in recent years, there is simply little that can be done to fully protect the passenger from the brute force of a car crash.

The most common types of car accident related injuries are back and neck injuries. Thousands of car accident victims seek medical attention each day to treat their back injuries, but few people truly understand what their injuries are and how detrimental they can be if left undiagnosed and untreated. Many doctors, even the good ones, simply do not have the time to educate their patients about the injuries they are being treated for. In this article, Miami car accident attorney Prosper Shaked explains some of the most common types of accident-related back injuries and conditions in terms that you will understand so that you are better prepared to overcome them.

Parts of the Spine Most Likely to be Injured in an Accident

To fully understand the type of injury or condition you’re suffering it is necessary to first understand the different parts of your back and how they work together.  The human spine is composed of various soft and hard tissues including bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, intervertebral discs, and nerves. Each of these parts of the must work together for your back to perform as it should. These parts include:

  • Muscles – The back muscles are bundles of fibrous soft tissue that support the spine while helping your body move around in all directions.
  • Tendons – The tendons are strong cords of connective tissue that attach your backbones to your back muscles.
  • Ligaments – The ligaments are elastic strings of connective tissue that work to stabilize the spinal column, protect the intervertebral discs, and link the vertebrae together.
  • Intervertebral Discs – Each vertebra in your spine is separated by a cushion like disc called an intervertebral disc.  These discs prevent the vertebrae from grinding into one another while serving as shock absorbers. Each of these “shock absorbers” is composed of a tough fibrous material surrounding an inner core made of a soft gel-like substance.  The inner core is called the nucleus pulposus.  Both the outside shell and inner core of the disc contain a significant amount of water and must remain extremely well hydrated and flexible to work properly.
  • Spinal cord, spinal canal, and spinal nerves – The spinal cord is a 40-50 cm long, tube-shaped structure composed of white and grey matter that begins all the way at the stem of your brain and travels down through the spinal column.  The passageway through with the spinal cord passes through is called the spinal canal.  There are 31 pairs of spinal nerves—one on each side of the vertebral column. These nerves work to transmit sensory, motor and automatic signals from the spinal cord to the rest of the body.  These nerves are extremely delicate, and they will signal the feeling of pain should they become irritated.  The pairs of nerves are labeled according to their position in the spinal column:
    • 8 pairs of cervical nerves
    • 12 pairs of thoracic nerves
    • 5 pairs of lumbar nerves
    • 5 pairs of sacral nerves
    • 1 pair of coccygeal nerves

Bones

The spine (the backbone) contains exactly 33 bones called vertebrae that interlock and stack on top of each other to form the spinal column.  Each vertebra contains a hole at its center through which the spinal cord passes while shielded by the hard bone surrounding it. The small wing-shaped bones projecting from the right and left side of each vertebra are called the transverse process.  The vertebrae are classified by which of the 5 regions of the spinal column they are located.

The five regions from the top of the spine to the bottom include:

  1. Cervical Region – Also known as your neck.  The vertebrae in this region, the cervical vertebrae, are numbered C1 through C7. The C1 vertebra, commonly referred to as the atlas, is located at the highest point of your neck, where it supports your entire head.
  2. Thoracic Region – The region of your back immediately below your neck makes up your mid back. There are twelve thoracic vertebrae numbered T1 through T12.
  3. Lumbar Region – This is your lower back. The vertebrae in this region, the lumbar vertebrae, are numbered L1 through L5.
  4. Sacral Region – The sacrum is the triangular-shaped bone that falls in between the bottom of the lumbar region and the top of the coccyx region.  The vertebrae in this region, the sacral vertebrae, are numbered S1 through S5.
  5. Coccyx Region – This area of your back is commonly referred to as the tailbone.  The 4 vertebrae in this region are known as the coccygeal vertebrae.

Facet Joints

The facet joints are the points where each vertebra connects to one another.  Each vertebra has two sets of two joints, four joints in total.  Each vertebra is connected to the vertebra immediately on top of it by the two superior facet joints, while it is connected to the vertebra immediately below it by the two inferior facet joints.

These joints work together with the intevebral discs to strengthen the spine and allow for lubricated, smooth, and controlled movement. The facet joints prevent the spine from extending too far in any particular direction.  These joints are part of the reason you cannot bend over backward.

  • Sacroiliac Joint Unlike facet joints, the sacroiliac joint is not very flexible and does not move very much. The sacroiliac joint connects the sacrum to your hips. Your body depends on this joint to support your entire bodyweight while standing in an upright position.

Common Types of Car Accident Back Injuries

Radiculopathy

Radiculopathy describes irritation of the spinal nerves.  The feeling of pain comes as the result of abnormal pressure on your spinal nerves.  Radiculopathy is often diagnosed alongside many types of spinal injuries that come as the result of automobile accidents like facet and sacroiliac joint syndrome, disc herniation, spine fractures, stenosis, sprains, and strains.  These types of injuries cause movements and displacements in your spine that apply abnormal pressure to your nerves.

Fractures

A spinal fracture occurs when one or more of the bones that make up your back, the vertebrae, crack or break. The most serious spinal fractures occur as the result of sudden and high energy trauma to the back—the type of energy that is experienced by a passenger involved in a high-speed motor vehicle accident.  Most spinal fractures occur in the lower and middle region of the spinal column.  Spinal fractures are much more dangerous than other types of bone fractures because of their proximity to the spinal cord and nerves. The shifts in the bone from the fracture can press on and damage your spinal nerves causing debilitating pain and irreparable damage. These are some of the most severe types of back injuries depending on the severity and type of fracture.  There are several five types of spinal fractures worth mentioning:

  1. Compression Fracture –the most common type of spinal fracture and often cause the vertebra bone to collapse in height.
  2. Burst Fracture – this is a much more severe type of compression fracture where brute force crushes the vertebra and spreads bone matter in all directions. This type of fracture is especially dangerous because the bone fragments can spread toward and damage the spinal cord leading to neurologic injuries like paralysis.
  3. Flexion Distraction Fracture – also called seatbelt fracture or chance fracture, this type of fracture most commonly occurs when the passenger’s body is violently thrown forward while retrained by a lap seatbelt. There is a lower chance of suffering a flexion-distraction fracture when properly wearing a seatbelt with shoulder restraint.
  4. Transverse Process Fracture –this is simply a fracture of one or more the boney projections from the right or left side of the vertebrae. This type of fracture is not as dangerous as the others because it does not injure the spinal cord or nerves.
  5. Dislocation Fracture – occurs when the vertebra shifts off the adjacent vertebra. Simply put, this happens when two or more of your vertebra come out of place. For the vertebra to come out of place the soft tissue joints that help to hold the vertebrae together must also break or tear.  This type of fracture can be very severe and often causes serious damage to the nerves and spinal cord.

Herniated Discs

The word “herniate” literally means to bulge or stick out.  Herniated discs, also called ruptured or slipped discs by some physicians occurs when the tough fibrous outer shell of your disc breaks down and allows the inner core gel-like substance to push out. The pain you feel as the result of a herniated disc depends on how much of the gel-like inner core pushes out of the shell and presses onto the spinal nerves near it. Generally, the larger the tear the in the disc, the more space there is for the inner core to push out and press on your nerves and the more pain you will experience.

Disc herniation pinching spinal nerve

Facet Joint Syndrome

Pain stemming from injuries to your facet joints is often classified as facet joint syndrome or facet joint dysfunction.  Facet joint injuries are often caused by high impact car accidents that tear, displace, and inflame the joints.  These injuries, often confused with disc injuries, can be incredibly painful due to the high concentration of spinal nerves at the joints.

Sacroiliac (SI) Joint Dysfunction

Other terms your physician may use to describe an injury to the sacroiliac join include SI joint inflammation, SI joint syndrome, SI joint inflammation or SI joint strain. Because the sacroiliac joint is so strong and hardly ever moves, it is not as prone to injuries as other joints in your body.  However, the impact of a car accident can strain the ligaments around the sacroiliac joint and lead to excessive and unwanted motion and “play” in the joints.

Acquired Spinal Stenosis

Acquired spinal stenosis occurs when your spinal canal is narrowed as the result of traumatic and sudden impact. As discussed above, your spinal canal is the passageway through which your spinal cord and nerves travel down your spine. The impact from the car accident can narrow this passageway applying pressure onto the spinal cord and the nerves.  This applied pressure can lead to extreme discomfort and chronic pain.

Back Sprains

You suffer a back sprain as the result of a car accident when the abrupt movement stretches or tears one or more of the ligaments that hold together your joints.  Back sprains often coincide with facet joint injuries.

Back Strains

You suffer a back strain as the result of a car accident when the force of the crash causes an irregular movement in your back that stretches or tears one or more of the muscles in your back.  While a sprain describes a stretch or tear of a ligament, a strain describes the stretch or tear of a muscle.

Miami Car Accident and Spinal Injury Lawyer Prosper Shaked Will Fight for You

If you are experiencing back pain or have suffered a debilitating spinal cord injury after an auto accident, truck accident or motorcycle accident it is important that you obtain an accurate diagnosis of your condition and a clear path to healing. The Law Offices of Prosper Shaked works around the clock to make sure that each of our clients receives the most effective medical treatment for their injuries.  Your primary concern should be to employ the very best medical professionals and personal injury attorneys to help you fully recover and seek the compensation you deserve.  Most importantly, you need a personal injury attorney who understands what you are going through.  Call attorney Prosper Shaked today (305) 690-0244 for a free and confidential consultation.

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