Car Accidents Have a High Risk of Causing Neck and Back Injury
What is causing your neck and lower back pain after a car accident?
How long does back pain last after a car accident?
When do I need a car accident lawyer after suffering back or neck pain?
While the majority of drivers on Florida roads are focused and attentive, many can be reckless and negligent. This recklessness can lead to car accidents with serious consequences, like back and neck injuries.
Suffering back or neck pain after a car accident is common. However, it does not have to de-rail your entire life. If you experienced lower back pain or neck pain after a collision, you need an experienced injury attorney on your side from the start.
What Causes Neck and Back Injuries During Car Accidents?
Car accidents and the force that goes along with them can be seriously damaging to the neck and back. These accidents are the main cause of neck injuries that often result in long-term suffering and great socio-economic cost to the victims and their families. More than 800,000 cases of vehicle crashes involving neck injuries are reported in the U.S. annually, and the cost of treatment is as high as $5.2 billion.
How Whiplash Happens
When a car hits something, or something hits a car, the inertia of the opposing force causes everything in the car, including a human, to move in that direction – and there is only so much room to move. Eventually, the seat belt, car door, dashboard, or some other object is going to stop that forward momentum. This force often generates enormous pressure on the neck and back.
This jerking motion is rapid, like a whip, and is often referred to as whiplash (a neck injury). Whiplash can cause a number of different injuries to the spine. Neck and lower back injuries are some of the most common you can experience after a car accident.
Whiplash injuries can be both debilitating and extremely painful. Two of the most common pain-generating injuries of the spine are discogenic (disc) injuries and facet joint injuries.
Lower Back Pain Caused by Disc Injuries in a Car Accident
Discogenic pain refers to pain that is associated with the spinal discs. These round pieces of cartilage act like a cushioning system between each bone that make up the spine. They also allow for movement and stability, so when one or more spinal discs are damaged, the pain can be intense.
Discogenic pain occurs as the condition of the spinal discs either gradually deteriorates over time or as a result of sudden acute trauma, such as in a car crash. Of course, discogenic pain is caused by some sort of damage to the spinal disc. The majority of people experience this type of back pain in the lumbar (lower) spine area.
The most common injuries that result in lower back pain are:
- Lumbar sprains
- Spinal stenosis
- Disc herniation
- Degenerative spinal disorder
Sprains in the lumbar region often result from excessive force being placed on the back, like lifting a heavy object, a sports injury, or a motor vehicle crash. These traumas cause the ligaments, muscles, and tendons in the back to stretch too much. When this excessive stretching occurs, it is called a sprain (or strain).
These injuries often cannot be diagnosed by imaging and instead rely on doctor experience and patient consultation to determine the diagnosis.
The word “stenosis” in medicine means the abnormal narrowing of a body channel. Therefore, spinal stenosis refers to a narrowing of the bone channel that houses the spinal nerves and spinal cord. Spinal stenosis is most commonly caused by natural aging; however, it can be caused by trauma such as a car accident.
In these cases, often a ruptured disc or bone fragment is invading the spinal canal space, applying pressure to the nerves or cord and causing pain.
Disc Herniation After a Car Wreck
A common injury to the cushion-like discs that separate your vertebrae is known as disc herniation. This occurs when the soft inner filling of the disc protrudes through the tougher outer encasing. This rupture by itself is often not painful, however, the protruding material often comes in contact with surrounding nerves, which can cause intense back pain.
Degenerative Spinal Disorders
Degenerative disc disorders encompass many different injuries and symptoms that all relate to the breaking down of the spine or its parts as the body ages. Degenerative spinal disorders can cause a number of injuries, conditions, or pains including:
- Spinal osteoarthritis
- Degenerative disc disease
- Bulging discs
- Herniated discs
- Degenerative scoliosis
- Bone spurs
- Spinal stenosis
- Foraminal stenosis
- Pinched nerves
Discogenic pain can present itself while a person is sitting or lying perfectly still, or when some form of activity irritates the affected area. This pain is often described as shooting and sharp. It can be localized to the damaged disc area or it may radiate to one or both legs, the buttocks, the groin, or feet.
This radiation is known as sciatica and it can be extremely uncomfortable. Typically, the pain will be exasperated by bending over, sitting, or standing for short or long periods of time. Some people find relief by laying down flat or in a cradled position, while others find that walking or moving around will actually relieve the pain.
Diagnosing Lower Back Pain and Neck Pain After a Car Accident
The lumbar spine has 5 vertebrae with soft discs in between, and each disc has a tough outer ring surrounding a soft nucleus. When we’re young the discs consist predominantly of water, but as we age, they lose hydration and become more susceptible to cracking and fissures known as annular tears. These tears lead to inflammation and pain.
Because back pain has so many different causes, it’s important to have a skilled practitioner properly diagnose your problem. MRIs or tomography are helpful in identifying signs of disc degeneration or damage. However, since some degenerated discs don’t cause pain, skilled doctors will recognize the need for other tests, such as discography, to identify all problematic discs.
It is also essential the radiologist and spine surgeon (if and when necessary) take time to illustrate acute trauma (immediate injury from the accident) to the spine, as opposed to pain relating to degenerative disc disease.
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Treating Lower Back Pain or Neck Pain After a Car Accident Caused by Spinal Disc Injury
There are a number of treatments you can try to help alleviate back or neck pain caused by a car accident that results in a spinal disc injury.
Physical therapists help discogenic pain sufferers by moving and manipulating the back and neck. Patients may be given exercises to do at home to lessen the pain and restore movement. This can include lumbar side bending, transverse plane motion, and flexion-rotation mobilization.
Physical therapy for neck and back pain can often abolish the patient’s pain completely and restore a considerable range of motion.
Anti-inflammatory medications are usually another early step in treating back pain caused by disc injuries. Other drugs can help too, including:
Some non-surgical treatments have proven successful in providing long-lasting relief and can be very helpful in resolving disc pain. These can include:
- Epidural corticosteroid injections
- Intradiscal steroid injection
- Intradiscal electrothermal therapy
Of course, if these treatments don’t provide sufficient relief, surgery may be the only option left.
Surgery is often not necessary, but if you’re in debilitating pain for 3 months or more, you may need to consider it as an option. One type of minimally invasive spine surgery is intradiscal electrothermal therapy (IDET). This surgery cauterizes the fibers around the tear, which helps fuse and kill off painful nerve endings.
With the nerve endings dead, you won’t be able to feel the discogenic pain anymore. The most common surgery for discogenic pain is spinal fusion. Be sure to research all your options and speak to your health care providers before choosing the best course of action for you.
Lower Back Pain Caused by Facet Injuries after a Car Accident
Facet joints are a lesser-known part of the spine but play an important role in their function. These joints are surrounded by a thick, flexible membrane that secretes a viscous fluid that lubricates the joints and allows the spine to move easily. They help to support the weight of the body and facilitate movement between each vertebra.
Facet joints work in conjunction with the spinal discs to allow strong, controlled movement throughout the spine and entire body.
Basically, the facet joint’s role is to prevent the spine from moving too much in one direction or the other. They are the reason the human body won’t completely bend backward, forwards, or sideways. In order to properly perform this function, these joints have a large number of nerve endings, and it is this large concentration of nerves that causes this area to be particularly painful when damaged.
Symptoms of a Facet Joint Injury
Frequent symptoms correlating to facet joint pain consist of muscle spasms, which may force the spine out of alignment causing back and/or neck pain. For example, a patient may experience a muscle spasm while simply bending over to pick up an item; this may freeze the joint as it slips out of place. When facet joints freeze, it typically occurs abruptly and without notice.
Facet joint injury symptoms vary greatly and are often confused with spinal disc issues. Facet locking syndrome can create a sudden painful attack, but it can be resolved by releasing the frozen joint or joints and thereby returning the facets to normal function.
Facet joint pain may also arise from aggravation or nerve irritation of the joint. When this happens, the nearby muscles spasm in an effort to help protect the area from further damage by preventing movement.
Proper Diagnosis and Treatment for Facet Joint Injuries
Fortunately, facet joint injuries can be seen on standard x-rays. A CT scan may be necessary to see more details of the spinal structures.
Having a CT scan can also help to rule out other possible issues with the facets. In order to see more clearly, your physician may find it beneficial to use an injection dye during an x-ray. This is called a facet joint block.
The dye is used along with a local anesthetic and cortisone that light up the areas of concern. This allows the radiologist to see very detailed information concerning the injured area. If these methods are not sufficient, an MRI scan may also be used to diagnose facet joint issues.
Treating Facet Joint Pain Caused by Auto Accident Back Pain
A common treatment for treating facet joint pain is the implementation of a simple cold or hot compress, but always check with your physician before starting any treatment. The typical order is 15 minutes of either hot or cold therapy every 2-3 hours, depending on your physician’s recommendation. NSAID’s (also known as anti-inflammatory) like ibuprofen can be helpful as well since they reduce swelling in the affected area.
If possible, attempt to move slowly. Don’t push yourself and listen to your body. If you are in pain, stop what you are doing.
If the pain persists, sometimes a therapeutic massage can help relieve the spasm, but be sure you let the therapist know of your issue before the massage begins.
Another option is to seek out a qualified chiropractor for help. Be sure they are qualified by researching the therapist before making an appointment. Also be sure to give very detailed information about what happened, how it happened, and where the pain is located.
Exercise has also been shown to improve spasms and stiffness. However, it is imperative that you speak to a medical professional first. By exercising without knowing the extent of your injury, you may actually worsen the pain.
How Is Back Pain Treated After a Car Accident?
Treatment for low back pain generally depends on whether the pain is minor (acute) or severe (chronic). The following treatments are generally ordered from most acute, or non-invasive, to most serious, ending with surgery. Any doctor will tell you that surgery is only recommended if conditions are worsening and/or if corrective procedures will cure or greatly relieve your pain.
Types of treatments for lower back pain after an accident include:
- Hot or cold packs
- Strengthening exercises
- Physical therapy
- Analgesic medications (such as over-the-counter medications, like acetaminophen, aspirin, or prescription opioids, like oxycodone and morphine)
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (ibuprofen, naproxen sodium)
- Anticonvulsants (primarily used to treat seizures but may help with radiculopathy)
- Counter-irritants (Bengay, Icy Hot)
- Spinal manipulation (chiropractic care)
- Nerve block therapies (injections of local anesthetics, steroids)
- Epidural steroid injections
Surgery as Treatment for Lower Back Pain
When the above therapies quit working, or when it is clear that surgery is necessary to improve an accident victim’s quality of life, surgery may be considered to relieve neck and lower back pain caused by car accidents. Surgery is often risky for patients, but the long-term relief can outweigh the possible negative outcomes. Back pain and neck pain reduce one’s enjoyment and capacity to the point that surgery is often welcomed.
As long the surgery is well-suited to the patient’s condition, it is often successful in relieving their pain. Surgical options for neck and back pain include:
- Vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty
- Spinal laminectomy
- Discectomy or microdiscectomy
- Intradiscal electrothermal therapy
- Radiofrequency denervation
- Spinal fusion
- Artificial disc replacement
Upper and Middle Back Pain After Whiplash in a Car Accident
The thoracic spine (located directly under the cervical spine of the neck) comprises your upper and mid-back. By nature, the thoracic spine is far more rigid and biomechanically supported than the lumbar spine, hence why thoracic spinal injuries are rare. The thoracic spine (T 1- T12) consists of twelve vertebrae.
You may not know that whiplash can cause upper and mid-back pain and is not limited to the neck. Fusions and laminectomies can be performed on the thoracic disc levels no different than the cervical and lumbar spine. However, surgery should only be attempted when all less restrictive measures (i.e., conservative care and interventional pain management/injection therapy) have been explored and failed.
Another procedure common to thoracic spine surgery is kyphoplasty. Kyphoplasty is a surgical procedure to treat a compression fracture of the vertebrae (oftentimes the thoracic spine).
This is a minimally invasive outpatient procedure where a balloon is inflated to restore the proper height of the vertebrae. Bone cement then is injected to keep the vertebrae in place.
Acceleration-deceleration is the main cause of trauma to the spine during a car accident. A common result is a herniated disc. In fact, asymptomatic discogenic neck pathology, seen on an MRI (i.e, herniated disc, bulge, etc.) becomes symptomatic following acute trauma like a car accident.
In the context of a car accident, neck injury victims generally start with conservative care (chiropractic or physical therapy). In many cases, muscle and ligament injuries will respond well to a period of conservative care. Muscle and ligament-related pain are often labeled as soft tissue injuries.
It is extremely rare for a car accident victim to warrant immediate medical attention from a spinal surgeon, with the exception of a genuine spinal cord injury or a nerve injury (oftentimes a herniated disc directly impacting a nerve root). Surgery would be warranted if such neck trauma results in
- Severely limited grip strength or strength within the arm
- A foot drop (i.e. dragging of the foot or inability to properly walk)
- Cauda equina syndrome
Typical Care for Cervical Spine Injuries
An accident victim with a cervical spine injury will generally attempt interventional pain management alongside conservative care. Many accident victims with neck symptoms will undergo epidural steroid injections of the cervical spine in an effort to determine whether temporary episodic relief can be obtained. If so, the patient may be a candidate for successful minimally invasive spine surgery.
Interventional pain management (that is, pain management via procedures, not medications) is often more diagnostic than therapeutic. The pain management specialist (generally an anesthesiologist or physiatrist) will correlate the clinical presentation with the diagnostic results via MRI findings and determine the appropriate course of care. The insurance company will generally view the medical documentation from an interventional pain management physician and place a higher value on such as opposed to merely conservative care.
In other words, the insurance carrier will note that conservative care failed to alleviate the individual’s pain following a car accident and that more provocative care was required.
Dealing with Insurance Adjusters After a Whiplash Accident
Whiplash accident cases are some of the most difficult to pursue. Insurance adjusters and their experts typically label whiplash as a simple sprain or strain injury. However, and ironically, non-surgical whiplash is often worse than your typical disc injury that requires surgery.
Insurance carriers go into these cases with the goal of minimizing the value of each claim. And many lawyers fail to spend the money necessary to hire the best experts and aggressively pursue whiplash claims for their clients.
As a Florida whiplash injury lawyer, we have handled thousands of whiplash claims over the past decade. We take these cases very seriously and are empathetic to how these injuries impact our clients. We aggressively pursue every last case, which sets us apart from the settlement mills that concern themselves more with signing up a high volume of clients than with litigating those cases to a satisfying conclusion that gets maximum compensation for their clients.
Why Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer?
Many people see personal injury lawyers as an expensive tool that is overkill for their back injury case and, because of the cost, they will attempt to handle their own personal injury claims. More often than not, this is a huge mistake. An attorney can help car accident victims pursue compensation for damages resulting from the long-term effects they can suffer after a car accident.
Even though they may act like they are on your side, insurance companies do not have your best interest at heart. Their interest is in keeping money out of your hands and in their pockets – that’s how they stay profitable. When you try to handle a personal injury case on your own, you are at an immense disadvantage.
This is because the insurance company has a number of professionals that are more experienced, equipped, and educated than the average person. This means the insurance company often gets their way when a person does not have their own legal representation. Handling a personal injury case on your own can cause mistakes to be made that end up costing you large chunks of a potential settlement, or even possibly your chance at receiving any compensation at all.
When you hire an experienced personal injury attorney, you are leveling the playing field and taking the fight to the insurance company. If you are wondering when to hire a car accident lawyer, sooner is always better than later.
Our Florida Spinal Cord Injury Lawyers Can Help You
Spinal cord injury cases are unique and require the retention of a team of experts. These experts can illustrate how the injury will impact the victim’s quality of life, costs of future medical bills, and any necessary home alterations that need to be made. It is important that the car accident lawyer you hire is well versed in handling such cases.
Spinal cord injury cases are, by nature, very expensive, and the law firm must also have the necessary financial resources to handle the case properly. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, P.A. has over 100 years of combined experience in assisting victims with neck and back injuries following a car accident. We work tirelessly for our auto accident victims to ensure they receive the proper medical attention for their injuries, as well as the proper recovery to offset the damages caused by a negligent party.
Our personal injury lawyers have vast experience handling back, head, and neck injuries that proves invaluable to clients when countering the tactics and defenses employed by the insurance companies. The insurance carrier will often argue that every car accident-related medical issue is related to degenerative disc disease and that the claimant would have had the same injury due to the degeneration of the spine that happens as we get older. This is why hiring the best spine injury lawyer for your case is essential to recovering maximum compensation.
Contact Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, P.A. Today
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 800 North Belcher Road Clearwater, FL 3375 833-55-Crash https://www.dolmanlaw.com/legal-services/back-neck-injury-attorneys/
*The above information was reviewed by either Attorney Matthew Dolman or another injury lawyer at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, P.A., which has a combined 100+ years of experience practicing Florida personal injury law. Matthew Dolman himself has been practicing personal injury law in Clearwater and St. Petersburg for the last seventeen (17) years. The information provided comes from extensive research and years of experience trying legal cases in courtrooms throughout Florida.
Stanley Gipe is a Florida Board Certified Civil Trial Lawyer, which means that per the Florida Bar, he is authorized to call himself an expert in the field of trial law. Our firm has now handled in excess of 7,500 individual personal injury cases. Further, we have handled thousands of claims and lawsuits involving a myriad of different spine injuries.