According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, spinal cord injuries as a result of auto accidents are increasing at an alarming rate. The effects of a spinal cord injury may differ depending on the type and intensity of the accident. No matter how small an accident is, the spinal cord is one of the most sensitive parts of the body, and if damaged, the effects can be life-threatening.
Here is what you need to know about spinal cord injuries caused by motor vehicle accidents, the effects, and what types of spine injury treatment can help you recover.
How Auto Accidents Can Cause Spinal Cord Injuries
The spinal cord is comprised of a spongy bundle of cylindrical nervous tissues that is surrounded by vertebrae. Similar to other nervous tissues found in the body, the spinal cord is very sensitive and can be affected by trauma and pressure which occurs during auto accidents.
When an accident sends a sudden blow to the spinal cord, the nervous tissues, vertebrae, ligaments, and discs can either be dislocated or crushed. Any form of damage to the spinal cord can affect the entire nervous system and alter bodily functions such as movement and sensation.
Even if the spinal cord wasn’t directly hit during the accident, if the vertebrae is fractured, it may pierce into the spinal cord and damage it. This is why after an auto accident, the involved persons should be rushed immediately to the hospital.
The Impact Of Spine Injuries on The Body
It is crucial to know that the spinal cord is composed of three parts: the Cervical (from the upper back to the neck), the thoracic (mid-back), and the Lumbar (lower back). And an injury on the spinal cord that is closer to the neck may lead to paralysis more than one sustained on the lower back area. Because the spinal cord is responsible for sending messages from the brain to all body parts, if injured, the above process can be interfered with.
Here are the impacts of spinal cord injury caused by auto accidents;
- Unexplained muscle spasms
- Pinching sensations and painful stinging on the back
- Tingling or numbness
- Loss of touch or weakened sensations
- Muscle weakness
- Sexual dysfunction
- Difficulty in walking
- Stiff and painful neck
- Loss of control of the bladder
- Difficulty in coughing and breathing
Auto accident spinal cord injuries can also result in the following conditions;
- Fractured Vertebrae
- Pinched Nerves (muscles may become numb, hurt, or tingle)
- Paraplegia (paralysis from the waist down)
- Quadriplegia (restricted movement from the neck going down)
- Ruptured Discs (commonly occurs in rear-end accidents when a strong force hits your spine)
- Bulging Discs (caused when your neck whips back and forward)
Diagnosis and Treatment For Spinal Cord Injuries
Seeking medical treatment is compulsory for victims of auto accidents no matter how small it was. The reason being some form of spinal cord injuries that are caused by motor vehicle accidents develop days after the accident. Bearing in mind how complex and sensitive this organ is, one should consult a physician right away for the diagnosis of spinal cord injuries.
And should there be any form of a back injury, treatment can be given right away. Regarding the treatment of spinal cord injuries, victims of car accidents have a higher chance of avoiding permanent damage when they seek medical help sooner. The minute you start noticing any signs and symptoms, consult your physician.
Diagnosis of spinal cord injury entails a complete physical and neurological exam. Some of the tools a physician will use for diagnosis include an X-ray of the spine, MRIs, and CT scans. They may also perform an evoked potential testing that measures how fast nerve signals reach your brain. In cases of intense auto accidents, imaging will be the first test that will be done so that the doctors can rule out life-threatening spinal cord injuries.
When an injury is detected during diagnosis, the doctor will recommend the following forms of treatment;
- Admission to the ICU – An injury to the spine requires urgent medical attention and one has to be admitted to the ICU where the neck will be immobilized to prevent further damage. Other complications such as respiratory difficulty are prevented by maintaining the patient’s ability to breathe.
- Medication – The physician will recommend the best medication for spinal cord injury.
- Immobilization – Tools like a rigid neck collar or special bed will offer adequate traction to stabilize your spine and align it correctly.
- Surgery – This is done to remove fractured ligaments or foreign objects that may have found their way into the spine during the auto accident.
- Experimental Treatments – In rare cases where the above forms of treatment don’t prove useful, a patient, if willing, can be part of experimental treatments that aim to boost nerve regeneration and control inflammation.
Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation
Once the injury is treated, doctors often refer the patient to rehabilitation facilities where they get treatment as well as therapy. When at rehab for these injuries, auto accident patients learn adaptive techniques, engage in exercises to strengthen muscles and redevelop their motor functions.
One is also taught how to prevent further complications arising from spinal cord injury. Also, patients that may experience paralysis after, are introduced to newer technologies that can assist them to be self-reliable.
During spinal cord injury rehabilitation, one has to work with a dietician, social worker, psychiatrist, physiatrist, and other therapists who ensure the patient can resume their normal life after treatment.
Recovery From Spinal Cord Injuries
The recovery period for spine injuries caused by motor vehicle accidents ranges from 1 week to 6 months. This will depend on the severity of the accident, injury, and health status of the affected person. Keep in mind that the doctor may not offer a prognosis right away, but people do experience small improvements with time.