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Understanding Car Accident Spine, Neck and Back Injuries

The more common injuries in personal injury lawsuits involve the neck and back. This is due to the soft tissue whiplash that commonly occurs when motor vehicle accidents take place. These injuries can range from minor to debilitating, all the way to permanent disabilities. It’s beneficial to have a basic understanding of the spinal cord in case you or a loved one is ever involved in a collision.

The Basic Anatomy

The spinal column is a stack of bones called vertebra. Between the stacked vertebra are jelly-like, natural shock absorbers, commonly referred to as a jelly donut. In the center of the spinal column exists the spinal cord which consists of nerve tissues that carry communication between the brain to other areas of the body.

Age related changes to the spine are natural and universal, sometimes referred to as degenerative changes. As we get older, our vertebrae get weaker and we experience arthritic changes. While this is natural, trauma to the neck or back can also cause premature issues to the spine. Due to the biomechanics of motor vehicle accidents, backs and necks are particularly susceptible to injury during a motor vehicle accident. Even innocuous and subtle movement during and after a vehicle crash can cause significant impacts on vital bones and tissue..

Common Back Injuries From Auto Collisions

Below are a few examples of spinal injuries we at the personal injury offices of Scott J. Corwin commonly see resulting from motor vehicle accidents:

  • Fractures of the vertebra, which sometimes requires surgery to stabilize the spine with metal plates and screws, though some fractures can be managed without surgery;
  • Trauma to the back may weaken the outer layer of our vertebra discs. The jelly like shock absorbers begin to bulge out, pinching a nerve and causing pain, numbness and tingling. Such disc bulging may progress to a herniating in which virtually all the jelly is out of the donut. This is very painful and often requires surgery. The usual surgery for a herniated disc involves removing the disc and fusing the adjacent vertebra with bone tissue;
  • The most traumatic of the back injuries involves damage to the spinal cord, which can cause paralysis- either to the legs or both arms and legs.

Common Injuries From Motorcycle Accidents

Of all the injuries that riders experience, perhaps the most serious type is injury to the spine. Spinal cord injuries can cause long-term disabilities ranging from back pain to minor paralysis to the most serious cases of quadriplegia, paralysis in all four limbs.

A disc injury, such as a herniated or bulging disc, can be quite serious too, as can nerve damage. To reduce the pain or regain limited range of motion, the victim may need to undergo physical therapy, see a chiropractor or take epidural injections. They may even need surgery.

Serious Impacts

What do you do if an accident has left you with a spinal cord injury and at least temporarily unable to provide for your family’s needs?

These types of devastating injuries often happen without warning for which no amount of planning or diligence can prevent. The aftermath can leave a victim with a shattered world with no idea how to move forward from that point. If you or a loved one has suffered such a terrible injury, then the future may look uncertain for many reasons.

Undoubtedly, your first and foremost concern is whether your physical injuries are permanent and what effect they will have on the rest of your life or the life of your loved one. Depending on the severity and location, a spinal injury can leave the victim requiring specialized care for the rest of his or her life. In other situations, one may have some expectation of recovery, but the monetary damages to one’s life may be ruinous regardless of the prognosis. If you are rendered unable to continue in your profession or care taking responsibilities, your greatest worry may be how to provide for your family’s needs now and in the future, especially if your physical abilities have been severely compromised.

Additional Complications

One facility in California that helps neck, back and spine patients regain some control in their lives also warns about some of the health complications that can occur.

An injury to the spine can lead to a serious and permanent disability, but with qualified and skilled care, it’s possible to regain some semblance of a normal life. However, in the course of working to achieve a level of recovery, there can be complications that need to be treated quickly or measures taken to prevent certain problems from occurring. One of the most serious can be pressure sores, where the skin has weakened in one area through constant pressure. This can lead to tissue death, and once this occurs, the body is more vulnerable to a serious infection that can ultimately result in amputation or even death.

Deep vein blood clots and dangerously high blood pressure levels are two other life-threatening conditions. Both can possibly be prevented by careful monitoring of the patient’s needs regarding regular emptying of the bladder and proper care of a catheter to prevent Autonomic Dysreflexia, along with compression wraps for the legs to ease the risk of deep vein thrombosis. Patients with spinal cord injuries are also prone to the loss of bone tissue, which can lead to the risk of fracture. Regular periods of weight-bearing exercises can help rebuild these vital structures.

Expenses Can Be Considerable After a Spinal Injury

Spinal cord injuries lead to lifelong expenses that can be very costly. Generally, higher level injuries are associated with higher expenses than lower level injuries. Another factor that affects the lifelong expenses associated with the injury is the age of the victim. Younger spinal cord injury patients are likely to have higher expenses because of the number of years they are likely to live after the injury occurs. It is easy to understand the financial devastation that occurs after this type of injury when you consider some averages associated with spinal cord injuries.

The expenses that a person with a spinal cord injury will incur is usually highest during the first year. A high tetraplegia injury means an average of $1,064,716 in direct expenses, which includes living expenses and medical care, in the first year. A low tetraplegia injury means an average of $769,351. Paraplegia is associated with an average of $518,904 of direct expenses in the first year. Any level of injury that is associated with incomplete motor function is associated with $347,484 the first year.

After the first year, the average cost of annual direct expenses is reduced significantly. High tetraplegia costs around $184,891, low tetraplegia costs an average of $113,423, paraplegia costs around $68,739, and an incomplete motor function costs an average of $42,206 per year.

On top of the first year expenses and subsequent year expenses, there is an additional average of $71,961 of costs per year. These indirect costs include losses in productivity, fringe benefits, and wages.

Potential Treatments

We wrote about in past about various experimental treatments being studied to help spinal injury victims recover some of their mobility and bodily function.

Professor Jerry Silver has been working on restoring nerve function since the 1980s. Based on his findings that a substance in cartilage acts as a “guardrail” that guides the direction of nerves’ growth, he developed a theory that this substance, called proteoglycan, interacts with damaged nerve fibers in the spinal cord in a way that could allow them to regenerate.

He and his team sought a drug that would cause the proteoglycan to “release” damaged nerves, instead of trapping them against scar tissue. They tested the resulting drug on rats unable to walk or control their bladders.

After 10 to 11 weeks, the injections began to work. Instead of reconnecting severed nerves, the drug caused the rats’ nerves to sprout and reconnect with the spinal cord, flooding the cord with serotonin. In turn, the serotonin helped amplify signals carried by intact nerves, allowing them to carry signals from the paralyzed sections of the rats’ bodies. Many regained bladder control, and some began walking again.

Medical professionals have also found varying levels of success in offering intense physical therapy shortly after paralysis occurs. A 2014 report from the Los Angeles Times noted this can lead to some motor function returning in the lower extremities. A more recent 2019 overview from Cleveland Clinic speaks to some of the muscle movement functions that could be restored from functional electrical stimulation (FES):

Activities such as:

  • Move hand to grasp and release objects.
  • Hold a fork to eat.
  • Hold a pen to write.
  • Stand, step and walk short distances.
  • Sit upright/improve posture.
  • Move from sitting to standing position.
  • Regain the sensations of pressure, touch, and temperature.

However, there is a general perception that treatment hits a wall at two years. In other words, little progress in recovery has been observed past that point.

Not long ago, however, researchers reported exciting new findings in Brain, a medical journal. After placing electrodes near the individual’s spines, some motor functions returned. Patients were able to re-learn how to use muscles in the knees, ankles and toes. The kicker: those involved in this small study suffered spinal cord injuries more than two years prior to treatment. In other words, this study has opened the door to rehabilitation that was once considered impossible.

Lifelong Care

Hopefully, someday there will be a cure for spinal cord injuries to return people to a comfortable way of life and mobility. Until then, there are numerous people in Los Angeles that are living with the disabling results of a negligent driver who caused a car accident. Life with a spinal injury can get expensive. Victims should not have to bear these costs themselves when their disability was due to a reckless or negligent driver.

Man seriously injured from car accident collision

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