Serious car accident injuries occur every day, taking a physical, emotional, and financial toll, and drastically altering the trajectory of the lives of those who suffer them. Each year, an estimated 17,000 people across the U.S. sustain spinal cord injuries (SCI).
Among younger sufferers of such trauma in New York, New Jersey, and throughout the country, car accidents rank among the leading causes of spine injuries. In medical emergencies with potentially serious long-term effects, SCIs often have life-changing impacts on those who suffer them as well as their families.
After a car crash that leave them with spinal injuries, knowing what to expect may help people adjust to and cope with their conditions, as well as their medical bills or even a car accident claim.
A tight bundle of cells and nerves extending down the middle of the back, the spinal cord transmits signals between the brain and the rest of the body. Trauma, disease, degeneration, and such factors sometimes bend, compress, and otherwise cause damage to this bundle. Often, this occurs due to a blow that dislocates, breaks, or crushes the vertebrae.
The bone may then press down on the nerves or tear into or cut through the cord tissue. When this happens, it generally impacts the body’s ability to send and receive messages from the brain, resulting in conditions commonly referred to as spinal cord injuries.
According to MayoClinic.org, auto collisions cause nearly half of all new SCIs to occur each year. The force of crashes may jolt and jostle vehicle occupants, causing them to have contact with the car’s interior or other passengers, or even to get ejected from the vehicle. Among other injuries, such trauma also sometimes damages accident victims’ spinal cords.
People also commonly suffer spinal cord injuries due to slips and falls, sports and recreation contact and activities, and acts of violence. In addition to traumatic events, some diseases, including arthritis, spinal cord inflammation, osteoporosis, and cancer, also cause spinal cord injuries.
The symptoms people experience due to SCIs vary based on several factors, including the severity and the location of the injury. Our neurology specialists will generally classify the severity as complete or incomplete, depending on whether the patient lost all or some feeling and movement below the injury level.
Some of the most common symptoms associated with spinal cord injuries include the following:
Some level of paralysis also commonly occurs due to SCIs. Medical professionals may diagnose auto accident victims with tetraplegia or paraplegia resulting from spinal cord injuries. Tetraplegia, or quadriplegia, refers to paralysis of the trunk, hands, arms, legs, and pelvic organs. Paraplegia, on the other hand, involves a total or partial loss of feeling and movement of the legs, pelvic organs, and trunk.
Typically, the symptoms resulting from serious back trauma occurs at or below the neurological level of the injury. For instance, someone who fractures his or her cervical spine may lose all feeling below the neck. A person who suffers a crushing injury to the lumbar spine, however, may have paralysis of the lower extremities only.
In addition to causing such effects, SCI symptoms also sometimes lead to complications that have the potential to worsen people’s medical condition or, in some cases, may even cause death. More than just impacting feeling and movement, the effects of SCIs often affect how the body functions.
For example, depending on the locations and severity of the injury, people may experience substantial changes in their bladder and bowel control, circulatory and respiratory system operations, bone density, muscle tone, sexual health, and even mental health.
Those living with spinal cord injuries after car wrecks sometimes have an increased risk of the urinary tract or kidney infections, as well as for developing kidney or bladder stones. Although it continues to store urine from the kidneys in the bladder, disruptions to the body’s signal system may cause issues emptying the bladder. SCIs also sometimes impact people’s control of their bowel movements.
When spinal cord injuries impact the abdomen and chest, it has the potential to affect people’s ability to cough and breathe. Consequently, they may have added chances of developing pneumonia or further potentially serious lung conditions.
Among other changes, serious back trauma also sometimes causes circulatory control problems. Ranging in severity from disruptive to life-threatening, the secondary circulation issues resulting from SCIs include orthostatic hypotension and autonomic dysreflexia. Circulation problems caused by such injuries also may lead to the development of pulmonary embolus, deep vein thrombosis, or other blood clots.
Lacking some or all muscle control below their injury levels, some who suffer spinal cord injuries experience muscle spasticity or flaccidity. Additionally, they often lead a more sedentary lifestyle because of their conditions, which contributes to muscle atrophy and weight loss. Bone density issues also commonly occur due to such trauma, adding to the potential of people suffering fractures or developing osteoporosis.
Pressure injuries commonly affect those living with SCIs. Losing sensation, the skin does not always tell the brain it has suffered an injury due to things such as prolonged pressure from sitting in the same spot for an extended period. Consequently, bedsores and other such pressure wounds may develop.
Depending on the levels of their injuries, SCIs sometimes impact people’s sexual organs and functions. Women with spinal cord injuries may experience lubrication issues, while men sometimes have erection and ejaculation dysfunction.
Beyond the physical challenges, living with SCIs also takes a mental toll for many. Changes in their body movement and control lead to feelings of confusion and helplessness for many.
Depression commonly affects those with spine trauma as they deal with the pain caused by their injuries and accept and cope with their conditions. As a result of depression, people can experience symptoms such as worsened pain, sleep difficulties, loss of energy and a decreased enjoyment of life.
Some SCIs present obviously, while others require careful diagnosis by neurology specialists or other medical professionals. The force and damage of auto collisions sometimes cause head injuries, penetrating injuries to the back area and pelvic fractures that also damage the spinal cord. To diagnose such trauma, health care personnel will perform diagnostic tests, which may include X-rays of the involved area, myelograms, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, computerized tomography (CT) scans and somatosensory evoked potential testing.
Radiological evaluations such as these allow physicians to identify fractures, bony abnormalities, blood clots and other issues placing compression on the spinal cord. A car accident doctor may also use other tests to determine muscle strength and the patient’s ability to feel light touches, as well as pinprick sensations.
After stabilizing the patient and making the initial diagnosis, the medical team typically turns its attention to determining the severity of the injury and the patient’s likely prognosis.
Unfortunately, car accident doctors cannot reverse complete spinal cord damage with current medical techniques and options. Therefore, treatment focuses on the prevention of further injury and the ability to return to a productive life.
The specific care our medical professionals provide depends on factors such as the patient’s age, health and medical history; the extent and type of trauma the patient sustained; and the patient’s response to initial treatments. The care patients receive for such trauma typically falls into the emergency, early or ongoing care stages.
Many car accident injuries require urgent medical action. At the auto crash scene, emergency medical professionals will typically immobilize the patient’s spine and transport him or her to the hospital for care. To help keep the back from moving during the trip from the scene to the medical facility, the paramedics may use a stiff carrying board and rigid neck collar.
The first stages of treatment after arriving at the hospital generally involve the observation and medical management. The health care team will generally focus on maintaining the accident victim’s ability to breathe, immobilization, preventing the onset of shock and preventing immediate secondary complications. In the intensive care unit or a specialized medical center, those injured in motor vehicle wrecks often work with a team of physicians, which often includes neurological specialists, orthopedic surgeons, psychologists, nurses, social workers and others.
The specific care people receive while hospitalized following a crash-caused spinal cord injury varies, but may include traction, administration of intravenous medications and surgery. Traction assists with bringing the spine back into proper alignment.
Corticosteroids or other medications aid in reducing the swelling around the spinal cord, while surgical interventions often aid in stabilizing the spine or removing objects compressing the spine. A car accident doctor will often recommend the use of feeding tubes, mechanical ventilators or bladder catheters for those who need assistance eating, breathing and emptying their bladders.
Treatment of SCIs does not end with the release of patients from the hospital. Typically, those living with such back trauma require ongoing medical care. This may include treatments to prevent and address secondary complications.
In addition to their health care teams, those living with spinal cord injuries caused by motor vehicle wrecks also commonly need assistance from family members, nurses or trained aides. The supportive care provided by these helpers includes assistance bathing, dressing and adjusting position in order to prevent the development of bedsores.
Rehabilitation also plays an important role in the lives of those with spinal cord injuries. Beginning in the early stages of their injuries, and often extending throughout the rest of their lives, rehabilitation of SCIs often includes occupational and physical therapy.
Therapists work with their patients to maintain and strengthen muscle function, as well as to redevelop their fine motor skills, teach them adaptive techniques for accomplishing everyday tasks, and help them use technologies and equipment that allow them to live as independent and productive lives as possible. Additionally, therapies aid in the prevention of complications. For example, therapists may provide exercises and treatments to assist with strengthening bladder and bowel control.
As with most other factors involved with spinal cord injuries, the long-term prognosis for those living with these conditions depends on the type and severity of their injuries. While medical interventions cannot reverse complete injuries, some with such trauma may experience some degree of improvement in the days following their accidents. Over time, those with incomplete injuries often see more improvement, with some regaining enough movement to control their bladder and bowel functions and walk.
People should not shrug off possible injuries to the spine as delaying treatment can have an adverse effect on the outcomes of their injuries. After a motor vehicle accident, those involved should seek prompt medical attention if they experience the following:
Those involved in car wrecks should also consider immediately going to the doctor if they lose all or some control over any part of their bodies, as well as if they experience bowel or urinary urgency, retention or incontinence issues.
After auto collisions that leave them with SCIs or other neck injuries and in need of medical treatment, a New York City or New Jersey car injury doctor can assist people in returning to a productive life. Neurology specialists and other health care professionals work with patients, developing customized treatment and pain management plans that address their injuries – including their associated short-term and long-term needs.
Doctors listed in our free directory can work with your primary care doctor, insurance company, and personal injury lawyer as well, to make sure your medical records are in order if you have any pending claims. These physicians have experience working with those who suffer serious injuries in auto accidents and understand the state’s no-fault regulations, so we can help accident victims navigate the paperwork and their coverage requirements.
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