Car accidents have the potential to cause severe, debilitating injuries. Their high-impact nature can put a lot of stress on your body, especially your spine.
Your spine plays an important role in your central nervous system and serves as the connection between all parts of your musculoskeletal system. Your spine is made up of vertebrae and discs that are arranged to support and protect your spinal cord. Maintaining your spinal health is essential to your well-being and quality of life.
Learn why you should see a doctor after a car accident.
Common Spinal Injuries from Car Accidents
Neck and back injuries are two of the most common car accident-related injuries.
Whiplash is one of the most common injuries sustained from a car accident — where the head is forced forward and backward in an abrupt, harsh motion. Whiplash typically affects the head, neck, shoulders and upper back. This sudden swift movement can injure your vertebrae, discs, nerves and the tissues around your neck.
Typical symptoms of whiplash include:
- Mild to severe neck pain that gets worse with movement
- Headaches that usually radiate from the base of the skull
- Stiffness and/or loss of range of motion in the neck
- Soreness in the upper back, shoulders or arms
- Difficulty concentrating or with memory
- Blurry vision
- Sleep disturbances
- Numbness or tingling in your arms
Most people recover within a few days or weeks after a whiplash injury, however, some may experience lasting pain or headaches. Whiplash can typically be treated with at-home remedies. Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter pain relievers, rest, hot and cold therapy and certain exercises and stretches to help you recover and regain your range of motion.
Car accidents can also cause spinal compression fractures. Compression fractures occur when the cancellous bone inside of your vertebrae collapses, and can occur anywhere throughout your spine.
Symptoms of compression fractures include:
- Back pain that worsens over time, or when moving or standing
- A dull, deep ache at the site of the fracture
- Increased pain when the fracture is touched or pressed
- Sudden pain when you take a deep breath or move your spine in certain directions
- Sharp, severe pain at the point of the fracture
- Pain that radiates into the arms and/or legs
Without proper treatment, compression fractures can lead to chronic pain, disability, loss of height and permanent deformity. Compression fractures can typically be treated with rest, back bracing, hot and cold therapy and pain medications. In severe cases, your spinal specialist may recommend kyphoplasty — a minimally invasive procedure that restores vertebral shape and height.
Your vertebral discs are designed to absorb impact, prevent injury and enable full range of motion in your spine. While they can protect your spine from serious damage in a traumatic event, spinal discs can also become injured. Disc herniation occurs when a crack forms in the hard exterior of your spinal discs, allowing part of its soft inner nucleus to leak out.
Some patients have no symptoms of a herniated disc. Others may experience:
- Pain in the lower back or neck (depending on the location of the herniated disc)
- Burning, tingling, pain or numbness that radiates from the buttock into the leg, and sometimes the foot
- Dull or sharp pain in the neck or between the shoulder blades
- Pain that radiates down the arm and into the hands and fingers
- Numbness or tingling in the arms or shoulders
- Pain that worsens with certain movements
While 90% of herniated discs heal on their own, if your pain doesn’t improve within six weeks it’s likely you need medical attention. When left untreated, a herniated disc can lead to a chronic condition that disrupts your quality of life.
Herniated discs can be treated with both surgical and non-surgical treatments. Non-surgical treatments typically include epidural steroid injections, physical therapy and various lifestyle changes. If your condition is severe, or doesn’t improve with non-surgical treatments, your doctor may recommend herniated disc surgery such as an artificial disc replacement.
When to Seek Medical Care After a Car Accident
After a car accident, seek medical care as soon as possible to ensure you haven’t sustained an injury — even if you don’t feel any pain immediately. In some cases, it can take time to feel the effects of an injury resulting from a traumatic event.
If you’ve been experiencing pain, numbness or weakness that prevents you from doing daily activities, visit a back pain specialist. They will be able to diagnose the cause of your pain and determine a proper treatment plan.
Seek medical attention immediately if you experience the following serious back pain symptoms:
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Difficulty walking
- Numbness and tingling anywhere in your body
- Sudden weakness or loss of control of the legs
- Pain that radiates to your extremities
Why You Shouldn't Delay Medical Treatment After a Car Accident
After a car accident, many people may experience general pain, soreness or discomfort. If you feel pain, weakness, pinching, aches or strains after a traumatic event, even if this pain develops later on, don’t ignore it.
Pain is your body’s way of signaling that something is wrong, and back pain after a car accident could be a sign of a more serious injury. If you delay treatment or neglect it altogether, you run the risk of your symptoms and injury worsening.
Contact Citrus Spine Institute to Find Relief
At Citrus Spine Institute, our board-certified healthcare providers specialize in spinal health and procedures. We will work with you to create a treatment plan that’s right for you should you sustain a spinal injury from an auto accident. Schedule a consultation today to get started.
If you are experiencing severe back pain, you should never ignore or try to suffer through it. Always consult your doctor. If you are not satisfied with your doctor or require specialized care, it is recommended to get a second opinion from a spinal specialist.