The human back and spine is made up of a complex system of bones, muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments and nerves. It also houses the spinal cord, one of the most delicate and vulnerable structures in the human body. Injury to any one of these components can cause severe back pain, weakness and disability.
Back injuries are an all-too-common result of car accidents because the back absorbs an incredible amount of force and pressure from a high-impact collision. If you’ve been in a car accident, seek medical help for care and treatment of back pain and symptoms, no matter how minor. Left untreated, acute back injuries can worsen and lead to long-term pain.
Keep reading to learn more about common car crash injuries and the signs and symptoms to look for.
Any type of back pain, discomfort or abnormal symptoms should be taken seriously following a car accident. Sometimes, injury symptoms may not appear until several hours after the crash or the next day. Don’t ignore mild back pain or assume it will resolve on its own — see a doctor to get a full work-up and diagnosis.
Back injuries may cause the following symptoms:
Car accidents can cause a range of back injuries in the cervical, thoracic and lumbar regions. Here are some of the most common.
1.) WHIPLASH. WHIPLASH IS ONE OF THE MOST COMMON INJURIES CAUSED BY A CAR ACCIDENT. IT OCCURS WHEN THE HEAD AND NECK JERK SUDDENLY BACKWARD AND FORWARD, STRAINING AND TEARING THE MUSCLES, LIGAMENTS AND TENDONS IN THE NECK. WHILE PAIN AND SYMPTOMS PRIMARILY AFFECT THE CERVICAL SPINE, WHIPLASH CAN CAUSE LASTING BACK PAIN. WHIPLASH IS OFTEN MISDIAGNOSED OR NOT TREATED AS A SERIOUS CONDITION, WHICH INCREASES THE RISK OF LONG-TERM COMPLICATIONS IN THE NECK AND BACK.
2.) SOFT TISSUE INJURIES. SOFT TISSUE INJURIES INCLUDE SPRAINS, STRAINS AND TEARS TO THE MUSCLES, TENDONS AND LIGAMENTS IN THE BACK. THESE INJURIES CAN CAUSE SIGNIFICANT PAIN, TENDERNESS, STIFFNESS AND MUSCLE SPASMS WHILE YOU’RE HEALING FROM AN ACCIDENT.
3.) A HERNIATED DISC. DURING A CAR ACCIDENT, THE BODY ABSORBS A LARGE AMOUNT OF FORCE AND IMPACT. EXTREME FORCE CAN CAUSE THE SUPPORTIVE DISCS IN THE SPINE TO SLIP OUT OF PLACE, CRACK OR RUPTURE. A HERNIATED DISC (ALSO CALLED A RUPTURED DISC) IS USUALLY PAINLESS BY ITSELF, BUT IT CAUSES SIGNIFICANT PAIN IF IT COMPRESSES A NERVE IN THE LUMBAR OR CERVICAL SPINE. NERVE COMPRESSION IN THE LUMBAR SPINE CAUSES LOW BACK PAIN, SCIATICA, WEAKNESS AND NUMBNESS OR TINGLING DOWN THE LEG AND FOOT. NERVE COMPRESSION IN THE CERVICAL SPINE CAUSES NECK AND SHOULDER PAIN, WEAKNESS AND NUMBNESS OR TINGLING DOWN THE ARM AND HAND.
4.) FRACTURES. THE FORCE FROM A CAR CRASH MAY CAUSE VERTEBRAE IN THE SPINE TO FRACTURE. THE MOST COMMON TYPE OF SPINAL FRACTURE FROM AN ACCIDENT IS A COMPRESSION FRACTURE. COMPRESSION FRACTURES FORM WHEN SIGNIFICANT STRESS OR PRESSURE ON THE SPINE CAUSE SMALL CRACKS OR FISSURES IN THE BONE. MORE SEVERE FRACTURES FROM TRAUMA MAY DAMAGE THE SPINAL CORD OR SURROUNDING NERVES AND REQUIRE IMMEDIATE MEDICAL ATTENTION.
5.) SPINAL CORD INJURIES. A SPINAL CORD INJURY IS THE MOST DANGEROUS TYPE OF INJURY YOU COULD SUSTAIN FROM A CAR ACCIDENT. DURING A COLLISION, YOUR SPINAL CORD COULD BECOME BRUISED, LACERATED OR DAMAGED FROM EXTREME PRESSURE. SPINAL CORD INJURIES CAN RESULT IN PERMANENT NERVE DAMAGE OR PARALYSIS AND YOU WILL NEED IMMEDIATE MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR THIS TYPE OF INJURY. IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR SPINAL CORD HAS BEEN INJURED IN A CRASH, TRY NOT TO MOVE AND LET EMS TRANSFER YOU SAFELY TO THE HOSPITAL.
You should always see a doctor after a car accident, even if you don’t feel any pain at the time. Some injuries — like whiplash or soft tissue injuries — may not present symptoms until hours or days after the initial accident. Be proactive and seek medical care early to ensure that untreated back pain now doesn’t lead to chronic pain and disability in the future.
Your primary care physician (PCP) isn’t the best choice of provider after a car crash. While your PCP is an amazing physician for internal health conditions, he or she probably doesn’t have the training and experience to identify, diagnose and treat common car crash injuries. Instead, seek medical care from a specialist with expertise in treating spine, joint and musculoskeletal conditions.
At your medical check-up, your doctor will:
After performing a thorough evaluation and running tests, your doctor will make a diagnosis and create a treatment plan.
Many back injuries require multiple treatment services and long recovery periods. You may experience a lot of anger, frustration, anxiety or depression during this time, due to physical limitations and emotional trauma from the accident. Gather a good support system around you to keep you motivated as you work toward recovery. Depending on the severity of your injury, you may also need a strong support system to assist you with transportation to and from appointments and daily care needs.
Recovery from back injuries is a long road, but your doctor will help guide you through the healing process with a comprehensive treatment plan. Your treatment may include the following:
1.) REST. FOR THE FIRST FEW DAYS FOLLOWING A CAR ACCIDENT, REST IS IMPORTANT TO GIVE YOUR BODY THE TIME IT NEEDS TO HEAL AND RECOVER. YOU WERE INVOLVED IN A TRAUMATIC INCIDENT THAT PLACED A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF STRESS AND PRESSURE ON YOUR BODY, SO DON’T RUSH TO RETURN TO YOUR NORMAL HECTIC LIFE RIGHT AWAY. REST, EAT WELL, DRINK PLENTY OF WATER AND GIVE YOURSELF TIME TO RECUPERATE.
2.) MEDICATIONS. YOU MAY BE IN A LOT OF PAIN FOLLOWING A CAR CRASH. YOU CAN TAKE OVER-THE-COUNTER PAINKILLERS TO REDUCE PAIN AND OVER-THE-COUNTER NSAIDS TO REDUCE PAIN AND INFLAMMATION. IF YOUR PAIN IS UNCONTROLLED BY OTC MEDICATIONS, YOUR DOCTOR MAY PRESCRIBE STRONGER PAINKILLERS. IF YOU’RE EXPERIENCING MUSCLE SPASMS, YOUR DOCTOR MAY PRESCRIBE MUSCLE RELAXANTS. YOU CAN ALSO APPLY TOPICAL PAIN RELIEVERS LIKE ICY HOT TO SOOTHE SORE, ACHY MUSCLES AND JOINTS.
3.) INJECTIONS. YOU MAY NEED A CORTICOSTEROID INJECTION TO REDUCE BACK OR JOINT PAIN, INFLAMMATION AND IRRITATION. CORTICOSTEROID SHOTS PROVIDE TEMPORARY ANTI-INFLAMMATORY BENEFITS; THEY ARE NOT A LONG-TERM SOLUTION AND THE EFFECTS WILL WEAR OFF OVER TIME.
4.) EXERCISE AND PHYSICAL THERAPY. WHILE REST IS NECESSARY FOR RECOVERY, DON’T REMAIN INACTIVE FOR TOO LONG. LONG-TERM IMMOBILIZATION CAN SLOW DOWN YOUR RECOVERY AND CAUSE MORE PAIN. WITH YOUR DOCTOR’S GO-AHEAD, INCORPORATE EXERCISES AND STRETCHING INTO YOUR DAILY ROUTINE. YOUR DOCTOR MAY PRESCRIBE A COURSE OF PHYSICAL THERAPY TO HELP YOU REGAIN STRENGTH, FLEXIBILITY, BALANCE AND RANGE OF MOTION. YOUR THERAPIST CAN RECOMMEND AT-HOME EXERCISES THAT BUILD UP LOWER-BACK AND CORE MUSCLES FOR A STRONG AND HEALTHY BACK AND SPINE.
5.) CHIROPRACTIC CARE. CHIROPRACTIC CARE CAN HELP RELIEVE PAIN AND TENSION IN YOUR BACK AND IMPROVE SPINAL FUNCTION AND MOBILITY.
6.) SURGERY. SOME BACK INJURIES, LIKE FRACTURES, SPINAL CORD INJURIES OR HERNIATED DISCS, MAY REQUIRE SURGERY TO REPAIR.
The most important thing you can do to aid recovery is follow your doctor-prescribed treatment plan and listen to your body. If you try to return to your normal activities too early, you increase the risk of worsening your injury or causing long-term complications.
Unfortunately, back injuries cause long-term complications for many people. Following a car accident, you may need to miss work and modify your normal activities due to injury. If you’re having severe pain walking and standing, you may need help driving, running errands and completing personal care tasks. Caring for and treating back injuries can cause huge physical, emotional and financial strains on your life.
Down the road, acute back injuries may lead to chronic back pain and disability. Chronic pain may force you to give up doing activities you love and it can affect your ability to concentrate and perform well at work. Back pain can cause you to feel uninterested in or self-conscious about socializing in public because of the difficulties involved. Chronic pain can be very isolating and many people develop depression or anxiety as a result.
The damage and injuries caused by a traumatic incident like a car crash can also contribute to or speed up the development of other back, joint and spine conditions, including:
At Integrity Spine and Orthopedics, our team of board-certified doctors has the training, experience and expertise to treat car crash injuries like whiplash, spinal damage, fractures and soft tissue injuries. We offer a wide range of treatment options that includes orthopedic care, pain management and minimally invasive spinal surgeries.
If you’ve been in a car accident, don’t wait to seek care. Call us today at 904-456-0017 or fill out an online contact form to schedule an appointment.