An injury to the spinal cord can occur for a variety of reasons, but car accidents are among the most common causes of spinal cord injuries. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), traffic accidents are responsible for 46 percent of all spinal cord injuries each year in the United States.
A car accident may cause the spine to flex beyond its normal range of motion. That alone can cause severe damage to the spinal cord. In addition, if an occupant’s head impacts something in the vehicle or if the victim is thrown from the vehicle and suffers a head injury, that can also cause the spinal column to compress, resulting in serious injury.
One common type of spinal injury suffered by car accident victims is an injury to the spongy discs that are found between the bones of the spine. The discs serve as a sort of buffer between the vertebrae to cushion the movement when the spine flexes. A traumatic event, such as a car accident, can cause damage to one or more discs. Called by various names such as a “bulging disc,” “slipped disc,” “ruptured disc” and “herniated disc,” a disc injury can cause serious problems.
The disc itself has a hard outer layer. If that is damaged in an accident, the spongy inside can bulge out. If the disc bulges out, it may press on a surrounding nerve, causing pain and various other symptoms to the area of the body served by the nerve. Herniated discs are most common in the lumbar region of the spine, though a herniated disc can occur anywhere in the spine.
Paralysis in Car Accidents
When the spinal cord suffers more severe damage, it may result in paralysis. Simply put, paralysis is the loss of function of a muscle or group of muscles. Typically, the victim of paralysis loses feeling and sensation in the affected areas as well.
Paralysis caused by a car accident usually happens when a nerve in the spinal cord is severely damaged. The nerves inside the spinal column control the muscles found throughout the body. The nerves in the cervical spine control functions in the upper half of the body, while the nerves in the lumbar spine control the lower body. If you suffer a severe injury to the nerves in the lumbar spine, you may suffer lower body paralysis, while an injury to the cervical spine is more likely to cause paralysis in the upper portion of the body or to both the upper and lower body.
Paralysis injuries can be categorized as follows:
- Monoplegia – where one limb is paralyzed.
- Hemiplegia – where the arm and leg on one side of the body are paralyzed.
- Paraplegia– where both legs and sometimes the pelvis and some of the lower body are paralyzed.
- Tetraplegia – where both the arms and legs are paralyzed (also known as quadriplegia).
According to the CDC, there are 200,000 people living with spinal cord injuries in the United States. Each year, about 12,000 to 20,000 new cases of spinal cord injuries occur in the U.S. The majority of spinal cord injuries are suffered by younger people. An estimated 50 to 70 percent of all new spinal cord injuries are in people in the 15- to 35-year-old age group.
Symptoms and Treatment of a Spinal Cord Injury
Because a spinal cord injury can potentially be life-altering, anyone with a suspected spinal cord injury should be evaluated immediately by a physician. Sometimes, a less serious spinal cord injury that is left untreated can worsen and cause much more serious problems.
Because so many different areas of the body can be affected by a spinal cord injury, there are numerous potential symptoms, including:
- Loss of sensation (usually in arms, legs, hands or feet).
- Loss of movement.
- Tingling sensation.
- Loss of bowel or bladder control.
- Spasms or exaggerated reflexes.
- Respiratory problems, coughing and trouble breathing.
- Change in sexual function.
Unfortunately, despite huge advances in medicine and science over the past century, a cure for paralysis has yet to be found. Once a nerve is severed or damaged beyond repair, there is no way to replace it. For a paralysis victim, treatment is usually focused on allowing the patient to live as independently as possible and on raising the quality of life for the patient. Mobility devices, various types of therapy and practical care aimed at preventing complications will become the focus once a victim has been diagnosed with paralysis.
Some spinal cord injuries can be treated and may heal fairly well. Herniated discs, for example, can actually heal with conservative treatment that may include prescription pain medications, steroids and anti-inflammatory medications. Physical therapy and traction techniques may also be used. When conservative treatment is not successful, the victim may need disc replacement surgery. Surgery may solve the problem, though many patients suffer from nerve damage that occurred as a result of the herniated disc. When this occurs, the victim will have to live with nerve pain for life.
Cost of Spinal Cord and Paralysis Injuries
The financial cost of treating a spinal cord or paralysis injury is usually very high. Exactly how high depends on factors such as the severity and location of the injury, the geographic location of the patient and the overall health of the victim.
The cost of treating a paralysis victim in the first year after the injury runs, on average, between $300,000 and $1 million. Each year after that treatment will cost between $40,000 and $170,000 as of 2013. The lifetime cost of treating a quadriplegic can easily run over $3 million in 2013 dollars.
For the average person, these figures are life-changing. The dollar figures do not take into account the emotional costs associated with a spinal cord injury, either. For many victims, the financial and emotional costs together can be devastating.
Discuss Your Spinal Cord Injury Claim with Our Yakima Accident Lawyer
If you or a loved one has suffered a spinal cord injury in a Washington State car accident that was someone else’s fault, you could be entitled to compensation for your injuries. Contact the Yakima car accident lawyers at Mariano Morales Law for a free initial consultation. Call us now at (509) 972-0493 or fill out our online contact form.
We represent injured people in Yakima, the Tri-Cities (Richland, Pasco and Kennewick), Wenatchee, Grant County and Chelan County. We pride ourselves on thoroughly and skillfully reviewing every record of every doctor. Our first priority is to make sure our clients get the best medical attention for their injuries. Find out today how we can help you.