The human back is a delicate and complex structure of bones, muscles, nerves and other tissues. While a healthy back is easy to take for granted, a back injury can have severe and long-lasting consequences that affect every aspect of daily life. Unfortunately, back injuries are among the most common injuries suffered as a result of automobile accidents.
One type of back injury common among car accident victims is called a herniated disc, also known as a slipped or ruptured disc. Discs are small, spongy cushions within the spinal column that separate and protect the vertebrae from one another and give the spine flexibility.
The impact from a car accident can damage a disc, causing it to break or deform, thereby destroying its ability to cushion the bones of the spine. A damaged disc may also put pressure directly on nearby nerves, which can cause pain, numbness and weakness in any part of the body that the affected nerve travels to.
Disc injuries in the lower back frequently lead to a condition called sciatica, which is characterized by shooting pain, numbness and tingling in the leg and/or buttock on either side. The pain associated with sciatica can be severe and debilitating, and has the potential to grow worse over time.
Spinal Cord Injuries
The spinal cord is the link between the brain and the rest of the body; when healthy, it carries messages back and forth that facilitate motor control and sensory function. A spinal cord injury occurs when the impact of a car accident causes a blow to the spine and damages the fragile bundle of nerves within it.
Spinal cord injuries impair the brain's ability to communicate with the body, resulting in paralysis and lack of sensation in all or part of the body. A spinal cord injury may be complete, meaning that there is total numbness and paralysis in the affected part of the body, or it may be incomplete, meaning that some amount of sensation or movement remains in the affected area.
The higher an injury is on the spine, the more of the body will be affected. Thus, an injury to the middle or lower spine will usually affect the legs, in a condition called paraplegia. In contrast, an injury to the neck or upper back is likely to affect the arms as well as the legs, in which case the condition is called quadriplegia.
Car accidents can also cause compression fractures, especially in older adults. Compression fractures are tiny cracks in the bones of the spine that can eventually cause the vertebrae to collapse and deform. As a result, the shape and structure of the spine may be permanently altered.
Symptoms of a compression fracture may include pain and breathing difficulties, as well as changes in posture. Because compression fractures are common among older adults, many people mistake the symptoms for normal signs of aging or arthritis and fail to seek medical attention. An estimated two-thirds of compression fractures go undiagnosed.
Low Speed Accidents
Even so-called "low impact" car accidents (those that occur at speeds of less than ten miles per hour) often lead to serious long-term injury. After all, while cars are built to withstand such impacts with little or no damage, the human body is not.
The soft tissues in the back and neck are particularly vulnerable to injury in low speed collisions, which often involve sudden jerking motions that can stretch or tear delicate nerves, muscles and connective tissues. More than one third of people involved in low speed collisions experience soft tissue injuries, and while some recover in a matter of weeks or months, others face permanent pain and disability.
Soft tissue injuries can be easily overlooked because they often occur in accidents that appear minor, and symptoms may not appear until several days later. Signs of soft tissue injury include muscle soreness or stiffness, bruising, numbness or tingling.
Long Term Costs
After an accident, the long-term costs of dealing with a back injury can be very high. Medical care alone can be a major expense, particularly where hospitalization, rehabilitation or any ongoing or follow-up are necessary.
Lost income is another major concern when a back injury interferes with a person's ability to work. Likewise, someone suffering from a back injury may be unable to perform everyday tasks like yard work, laundry or grocery shopping, thus adding the additional expense of hiring someone else to complete those tasks.
A person who has been injured in an accident can go to court to ask for compensation from the party who was responsible for the accident. In most cases, the injured person will ask for compensatory damages, which is a monetary amount intended to restore the injured person to the same position he or she was in before the accident occurred. Compensatory damages are calculated to include out-of-pocket economic factors, such as medical expenses and lost wages, as well and non-economic factors like pain and suffering.
In addition to compensatory damages, punitive damages may be available in certain cases where an accident occurs because another driver has behaved recklessly or irresponsibly, or where the accident was caused by a manufacturing defect of an automobile.
While monetary compensation can never completely make up for a serious injury, it can help provide the necessary tools for recovery. If you or someone you love has been injured in an accident, contact an experienced personal injury attorney today to find out whether you may be entitled to receive compensation for your injuries.