During a car accident, the human body absorbs the shock of an entire vehicle. Sometimes, this force is enough to cause damage to the spine. A spinal cord injury can upend your life in the most devastating way. The spinal cord serves as the connection between your brain and body; therefore, injuring your cervical, lumbar, or thoracic spine during a car accident could result in a lifetime of pain and discomfort.
The most common causes of spinal cord injuries in the United States are:
Motor vehicle accidents. Auto and motorcycle accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries, accounting for almost half of new spinal cord injuries each year.
Falls. A spinal cord injury after age 65 is most often caused by a fall.
Sports and recreation injuries. Athletic activities, such as impact sports and diving in shallow water, cause about 10% of spinal cord injuries.
Diseases. Cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis and inflammation of the spinal cord also can cause spinal cord injuries.
Here are some of the causes and risks of spinal cord injuries.
Causes and risks
The spine extends from the base of the skull to the hips and is comprised of 33 small bones held together by ligaments and disks. The spine bones form a column with a central channel to encase and protect the spinal cord, which sends nerve signals from our brain to the rest of our body. Spinal cord injuries result from extreme force and impact on the vertebrae, ligaments, and disks of the spinal column causing damage to the nerve fibers that make up the spinal cord.
According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, car accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries, accounting for almost 40% of all cases. Slip and fall situations are the second leading cause. Injuries to the outer structure of the spine can result in chronic pain, but these injuries are often treatable. Victims of spine injuries sometimes are capable of fully recovering with no complications. However, severing or damaging the spinal cord is a worst-case scenario, generally resulting in nerve damage and paralysis.
Types of spinal cord injuries
Whiplash, the most common type of spinal cord injury, occurs when the cervical spine is over-extended. Whiplash is a common outcome of car accidents because the force of impact can cause the head and upper spine to move forward and backward violently. Whiplash is a soft tissue injury, meaning the muscles, tendons, and ligaments attached to the spine are strained. Whiplash can be treated with medication, physical therapy, and rest.
Herniated discs are another typical result of car accidents and slip and falls. Herniated discs occur when the gel-like cushions separating the spinal vertebrae are compressed or leak due to misalignments of the spinal column structure caused by trauma or muscle strain. Herniated discs may cause numbness, pain, and tingling and are not as easy to treat as whiplash. Herniated disks frequently require surgery and a lengthy recovery period.
A spinal fracture is when one of the 33 small vertebrae in the spine is cracked or broken. This can occur most frequently with advanced age and the weakening of the bone structure due to osteoporosis and aging, causing them to collapse under the simple pressures of getting out of a chair. Spinal fractures can cause many symptoms such as pain, muscle spasms, and tightness, to name a few. More severe spinal fractures can lead to further damage of the spinal cord, which can cause paralysis, nerve damage, and sometimes loss of brain function.
Following this advice might reduce your risk of a spinal cord injury:
Drive safely. Car crashes are one of the most common causes of spinal cord injuries. Wear a seat belt every time you’re in a moving vehicle. Make sure that your children wear a seat belt or use an age- and weight-appropriate child safety seat. To protect them from air bag injuries, children under age 12 should always ride in the back seat. Pay attention toyou’re your headrest positioning of that of your passengers, providing extra protection in the event of an accident.
Prevent falls. Use a step stool with a grab bar to reach high-up objects. Add handrails along stairways. Put nonslip mats on tile floors and in the tub or shower
Take precautions when playing sports. Always wear recommended safety gear. Avoid leading with your head in sports by playing positions that don’t involve abrupt stoppage or impacts with other players..