Vehicle accidents can impact the course of our lives in a matter of seconds.
Not only will you be dealing with insurance claims, police reports and perhaps a legal matter, but you might also be managing a significant neck injury. These kinds of accidents can be challenging to overcome, but adding an injury to the list can make recovery even more overwhelming.
When the body is involved in a car accident, it can experience a significant amount of force that can impact the most vulnerable aspects of the body. We are going to discuss one of those sensitive body parts, specifically the neck, and the injuries that someone can experience after a car accident. Neck injuries can be intricate and even more complicated to heal from.
The Injury Outlook
Injuries of the neck are common after a vehicular accident. The American Law Center has researched that 42% of people involved in a car accident in the U.S. report neck pain as a result in their lawsuits. Further, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons estimates that at least 40% of the people treated, experience life-long complications due to just one accident. Here is a more in-depth look at the neck injuries that someone can experience after an accident.
- Whiplash – The doctors at Spine-Health define whiplash as the head first moving backward and then forward in a rapid motion. This fast pace action causes tremendous strain on the ligaments, muscles and spinal column.
The aftermath of whiplash is what most people will complain about after experiencing neck trauma. The neck is not the only body part impacted with whiplash; a sufferer may experience shoulder or upper back pain that radiates from the original injury. Others may experience myofascial pain in the head or jaw with spells of dizziness and headaches. Every whiplash trauma manifests differently from person to person, as well as the recovery period that follows post-accident.
While whiplash may be the most common injury after a car accident, they are one of the most difficult injuries to ‘see’ or prove. This is because whiplash is a soft tissue injury that isn’t visible in medical evaluations such as x-rays. Those that suffer whiplash will likely see recovery within a few weeks, but it is not uncommon for injuries to last months or even years according to medical studies.
- Bone Fractures – The Cleveland Clinic defines bone fractures as a significant force placed on a bone that often changes the bone’s shape or contour.
Bone fractures after a car accident can result in a waiting period for the bones to recover (they can often do this on their own) or, in more severe brakes, may result in surgery. Fractures can happen in various parts of the neck, such as the cervical spine and vertebrae. The surrounding bones can also be impacted such as the collarbone or facial bones like the jaw.
Recovering from bone fractures will impact each person differently. Often, recovery is determined by the severity of the injury, the age of the person, and how many bones are affected. Smaller injuries may be able to heal in a matter of weeks, while more severe injuries may take up to a year or more. The pain associated with fractures is the body working to heal the damage, and typically happens in the soft tissues surrounding the broken bone.
- Slipped, Herniated or Prolapsed Disk – Healthline defines this type of medical issue as when the inner portion of a vertebrae disk protrudes outside of the bone structure surrounding it.
You likely know someone who has experienced a slipped disk and are well aware of the pain associated with this injury. Once the disk protrudes outside of the bone, it places tremendous pressure on the nerves that surround the area. This is often why disk injuries are hard to pinpoint and can be even tougher to treat.
Symptoms of disk injuries go well beyond pain. It is common for those who suffer from this sort of injury to feel pain radiating into the arms or legs. Other people may experience pain that gets worse at certain times of the day or after prolonged instances of standing or sitting. What’s worse, muscle weakness tends to follow disk injuries with episodes of burning sensations and unexplained aches.
Treatment for herniated, prolapsed or slipped disks will vary depending on the severity of the injury. Some sufferers can see relief with physical therapy, medications or nerve blocks; while others with more severe cases may need a more aggressive approach such as surgery.
- Bulging Disk – The Mayo Clinic defines a bulging disk as an event where the disk is compressed but doesn’t protrude outside of the spinal column (such as with a herniated disk we discussed above.)
Chances are a bulging disk will not impact you the same way a herniated disk will. More specifically, a bulging disk does not produce as much pain (typically) as a herniated disk. You may learn that you have a bulging disk only after getting medical attention after a car accident, as some have no symptoms. There are symptoms, however, that shouldn’t be ignored since bulging disks can lead to herniated disks over time.
Those who suffer from a bulging disk in the cervical spine (neck area) may complain of tingling in their extremities, such as their arms and fingers. Other symptoms may manifest as muscle weakness, such as arm strength or having a weak grip in the hands.
Diagnosis of a bulging disk happens through your doctor who may order procedures like x-rays, MRI or CT scans to reveal the issue. Treating bulging disks usually depends on the severity the sufferer is experiencing. Treatment usually reflects pain management through specific exercises, rest and weight management. For more severe cases, surgical procedures are often prescribed.
- Muscle Spasms – Muscle spasms are another common injury after vehicle accidents. As the body protects itself and begins the healing process, these spasms may occur around impacted areas of the neck.
Most people are familiar with muscle spasms in various parts of the body. When someone experiences muscle spasms after a car accident, they are not just annoying and repetitive, but can also be painful. These injuries are often overlooked, but shouldn’t be, as they can be a symptom to a more profound injury like a herniated disk.
Long -Term Impact of Car Accident Injuries
We’ve just discussed a number of common neck injuries that typically show up quickly after an accident. What is also important to factor in, are the long-term effects that someone can experience years down the road.
- Spinal Stenosis – This condition is defined by the narrowing of the spinal column that places pressure on the nerves associated with the vertebrae.
Spinal stenosis is not a diagnosis you are likely to receive as a result of a car accident, but it is a reflection of what can occur in the long term from your injury. Spinal stenosis occurs when injuries aren’t given the proper care after an adverse event, such as a car accident.
Non-surgical options to treat spinal stenosis are usually at the top of the list when consulting a physician. You may be prescribed medications to support healing, offered some physical activities to slow down the progression, or ordered cortisone shots to ease any discomfort. Surgery is usually the last option to treat spinal stenosis which doesn’t have a 100% success rate.
- Osteoarthritis – The Arthritis Foundation defines osteoarthritis as a condition impacting the cartilage function within the joints of the body.
As a long-term effect, osteoarthritis can develop in the neck after an injury or trauma. The consequences of osteoarthritis typically include stiffness and limited mobility. Others may experience joint swelling or loud clicking noises from the neck.
There is no cure for osteoarthritis which is why complete care after a car accident is so very vital. Undiagnosed neck injuries that someone has learned to live with can have a serious long-term impact on someone’s life and overall well being.
The Legalities of Neck Injuries
The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons has documented the lifelong impact of neck injuries in the United States. Each year, there are approximately 3-million reported cases of neck injuries, many of which come from vehicular accidents.
Neck pain is typically reported as the most common injury in a car accident claim, costing insurance companies billions of dollars every year. The money spent on neck injury claims represents roughly a quarter of the dollars spent on car accident injury claims according to the American Law Center.
While this might sound as though people are litigation-happy about their injuries, these numbers reflect how common neck injuries are after a car accident. Furthermore, these numbers show how expensive these injuries are to treat and their long-term impact on the future of those who have been affected.
It is crucial for anyone who has experienced a neck injury after a car accident to seek immediate medical attention.
After treatment has occurred, a victim will find it helpful to seek legal counsel for a potential car accident case.