The human spine is unique because of its range of motion. The fact that people can walk upright as well as bend both forward and backward is because of the spine. Although the spine is very flexible, the force of a car accident can cause the spine to flex beyond its normal range. It may cause injury to the surrounding muscles, tendons, ligaments or nerves.
Some common neck injuries caused by a car accident include:
- Whiplash – Whiplash injury occurs when the head is thrown forward and then backward with extreme force and at an accelerated rate of speed. This flexes the spine beyond its normal range. Imagine a matador’s whip as he flicks it back and then snaps it forward. This is what happens to the neck in a whiplash injury. The whipping motion causes the ligaments, tendons and muscles in the neck to pull and stretch to the point of injury.
- Muscle strain/sprain – A strain is an injury to the muscles or tendons in the neck, while a sprain is an injury to the ligaments in the neck. Ligaments are the bands of connective tissue that hold bones together. Either a strain or a sprain can occur when the head collides with something in the vehicle or because of the head jerks around during a collision.
- Herniated disc – In between the vertebrae are spongy discs that provide a cushion between the bones and help the spine bend and flex. Each disc has a hard shell that is protects the spongy tissue inside. If the outside “shell” is cracked or broken, the disc itself can bulge out. An injury of this sort is referred to as a herniated disc, a bulging disc or a slipped disc. Often, the herniated disc then pushes on a nearby nerve, causing extreme pain and other symptoms for the victim.
- Spinal cord injury – If the spinal cord itself is injured, a victim can suffer paralysis. A cervical spinal cord injury may result in the victim suffering paraplegia (tetraplegia), or the loss of the ability to move both the legs and the arms. Although a direct injury to the spine can occur in a car accident if an object actually penetrates the spinal column, a spinal cord injury is more likely to result from a disc injury that affects the spinal cord. The vertebrae can also be cracked or may shift to the extent that a vertebra comes into contact with the spinal cord, causing injury. A fatal injury can result if the spinal cord is completely severed in an accident.
Neck injuries are among the most common types of car accident injuries, and whiplash is extremely common. Each year, over 3 million people suffer a whiplash injury in the United States, and the majority of those injuries are the result of a car accident.
Almost half of all acute spinal cord injuries in the United States are the result of motor vehicle accidents. While not as common as whiplash, herniated discs and paralysis are also frequently caused by car accidents. On average, there are 1,000 new paralysis injuries every month in the U.S., and many of those are caused by car accidents.
Because of the potential for a spinal cord injury, anyone suspected of suffering a neck injury in a car accident should not be moved until emergency medical personnel arrive. Common symptoms of a neck injury include:
- Pain in the neck, arms or hands.
- Tingling in the arms or hands.
- Loss of feeling in hands or fingers.
- Numbness in hands or fingers.
- A burning sensation in the neck or arm.
Treatment for Neck Injuries and Whiplash
Treatment for a neck injury or whiplash injury depends on the type and extent of the injury. Some injuries to the neck will heal completely with conservative treatment. However, some victims of a neck injury will live with pain or complications from the injury for life.
- Strains and sprains are usually treated with ice and pain medications. Chiropractic care may be recommended along with muscle relaxants and prescription painkillers. These injuries usually heal completely within a few months of the injury.
- Whiplash is generally treated with muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory medications and steroids – either orally or by injection. Chiropractic care may be needed. Many whiplash injuries heal within a few months. However, about 10 percent of all whiplash victims face permanent injuries.
- Herniated discs are difficult to treat. Depending on the location and severity of the injury, many of the same medications as those ordered for whiplash may be used. In addition, home traction exercises and epidural injections may be tried in an attempt to avoid surgery. If conservative treatment fails, disc replacement surgery may be necessary. Sometimes a herniated disc irreparably damages nearby nerves, meaning that the victim will live with nerve pain for life.
- Currently, there is no cure for paralysis. A paralysis patient will likely undergo various forms of therapy aimed at providing a better quality of life. However, the paralysis itself cannot be reversed. Many paralysis patients will require lifelong assistance and adaptive devices to perform the basic tasks of living.
Suffered a Neck Injury in a Yakima Car Accident? Talk to Us Today
If you have suffered whiplash or another neck injury in a Washington State car accident, you could be entitled to compensation. Along with the physical and emotional pain that a neck injury causes, it can also cause severe financial hardship for the victim and the victim’s family. The cost of treating a herniated disc or a paralysis injury can easily run over $100,000 in the first year, with lifetime costs exceeding $1 million.
At Mariano Morales Law, we represent whiplash and neck injury victims and their families in the Yakima Valley and Tri-Cities (Richland, Pasco and Kennewick), as well as Wenatchee, Grant County and Chelan County areas. Contact the Washington State injury lawyers at Mariano Morales Law for a free initial consultation about your car accident neck injury. Call us now at (509) 972-0493 or fill out our online contact form. We know how to deal with insurance companies by preparing the strongest case possible.