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Spine Injuries in Road Accidents.
How Catastrophic They Could Be?

Spine Injuries in Road Accidents

Have you ever been in a road accident? I understand this is not a query loved by all. Touchwood, if you have only had good experiences, both behind the wheels and on the roads. Driving is one of the riskiest activities in our daily lives; unless you are a coal miner or a logger. Let it be riding a motorbike or driving a car, it is never safe anywhere on the planet. It can be life-altering to have suffered a spinal injury. If you are unfortunate enough to relate to this, you will want to consult with the best spinal surgeons/specialists such as Dr Timothy Steel to give you the best advice, treatment, and care.

We are talking about road accidents and how we can forget about walking - the inexpensive and environmentally-friendly form of transportation. Road crashes also involve bicycle accidents and pedestrian accidents at alarmingly high rates.

Here are few pretty crazy data on road accidents in the United States.

  • Every year, around 2 million people in the United States are permanently injured in road accidents.
  • In the first half of 2021, 20,160 individuals perished in car accidents in the United States- says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
  • In the United States, car accidents are the most significant cause of death of children under 15.
  • Every 88 minutes, one pedestrian dies in a road accident.
  • According to NHTSA, the number of pedestrian and cyclist deaths in 2018 was the highest since 1990.

Strains, fractures, wounds, bruises, and traumatic internal injuries are all possible outcomes of road accidents. The consequences of some road crashes are catastrophic injuries that leave the victim with life-altering events and long-term effects. The most common catastrophic injuries sustained in a car accident include injuries to the spinal cord, brain, eyes, and face.

Let’s now move into the heart of the matter: spine injuries after a road accident and its knock-on effect on the victims.

The spinal cord is a long, delicate tubelike structure that runs from the end of the brain stem to practically the bottom of the spine. The spine is made up of 33 distinct backbones called the vertebrae that protect the spinal cord.

The spinal cord serves as a conduit for messages from the brain to the body and vice versa. It is involved in the movement, autonomic functions, sensory abilities, and reflex responses of an individual. Damage to any segment of the spinal cord or nerves near the end of the spinal canal can result in persistent changes in strength, sensation, and other body functions below the lesion site.

Spine Injuries in Road Accidents

Spine injuries are among the most dangerous catastrophic injuries suffered by traffic accident victims. Nearly 40% of all spine injuries are the aftermath of vehicle crashes. A road accident can cause damage to the spine due to the following reasons.

  • Forces of impact
  • Seat position of the vehicle occupant
  • Inadequate safety measures in vehicles
  • The sitting position of the occupant
  • Age and health of the victim
  • Pre-existing conditions of the individual like cervical degenerative disc disease

High-impact Road accidents can cause the spinal cord or adjacent tissues, such as ligaments, discs, and vertebrae, to take a direct hit. It causes the spine to absorb a tremendous amount of stress and strain.

There are three main regions in the spine, namely the cervical spine (neck and upper back), thoracic spine (mid-back), and lumbar spine (lower back). Trauma to the cervical, lumbar, or thoracic spine can cause severe injury to the spinal cord, resulting in paralysis from the neck to the waist. Vertebrae can break, and sensitive tissues might be crushed or displaced due to this trauma. Some spinal cord injuries also result in bleeding.

Types of Spine Injuries

Spine injuries can be of different types. As we focus on road accidents, we will check out the common types of spinal cord damages related to that. Spine injuries are generally classified into two, depending upon the severity of the damage. They are

  • Complete Spinal Cord Injury

A complete spinal cord injury results in the full loss of sensation and motor function below the level of the injury.

  • Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury

An incomplete spinal cord injury results in partial retainment of some functions at or below the place of injury.

Spine Injuries in Road Accidents

Having discussed the general classification of a spine injury, the common spine injuries reported in road accidents are hereinafter laid down.

  1. Pinched nerves
  2. Whiplash injury
  3. Spinal fracture
  4. Bulging discs
  5. Spinal disc herniation
  6. Lumbar disc herniation
  7. Spondylolysis
  8. Spondylolisthesis
  9. Fractured vertebrae
  10. Spinal stenosis
  11. Paraplegia
  12. Quadriplegia

Management of Spine Injuries After a Road Accident

The importance of regular monitoring of symptoms, suitable diagnostic procedures, and effective treatment strategies in spine injury management cannot be overstated. After a road accident, the first step is to pay attention to any pain or discomfort in your upper, mid, or lower back. You may have suffered major spinal cord damage if you have been in a road accident and experience pain, tingling, numbness, or muscle spasms in the neck or back as a result.

Physical examination, assessment tests such as motor function tests and sensory function tests, and discussion of the patient's medical history are all part of the initial diagnosis of spine injuries. After determining the extent of the damage, the doctor may recommend additional diagnostic procedures, such as imaging investigations, to gain a better picture of the situation. X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and other imaging techniques may be used as required.

Spinal injuries, however, do not have a complete cure. Improving the functioning of the spine, lowering inflammation, and preventing additional injury may aid the victim in dealing with the pain and improving his condition. The kind and severity of the injury determine the treatment method for spine injuries.

The therapy for a spine injury begins at the accident scene itself. The emergency care and first aid provided to the spine injury victim helps to prevent further damage and, as a result, life-threatening consequences. Instant medical attention would protect the victim from head or neck trauma. The immediate step of the emergency personnel after suspecting spine injuries should be spine immobilization using a neck collar and a rigid carrying board. Breathing tube and use of a ventilator may be required in spine injuries of the upper neck.

Spine Injuries in Road Accidents

There have been instances where failure to immobilize the accident victim’s spine during transportation and evaluation resulted in catastrophic one. Sadly, the improper emergency care after the spine injury left him crippled for the rest of his life. A lawsuit was filed for medical negligence, and the victim was compensated for his catastrophic injury.

Spine injuries from road crashes could be managed using the following strategies. The method depends upon the patient's age, health, and condition.

Medications may help the patient relieve pain, muscle spasms and heal the injuries. It may involve drugs as well as steroid injections.

Decompression and stabilization surgery are standard treatment protocols for severe spine injuries like fractures, herniations and spinal nerve damages. When performed early, it helps in faster recovery.

Victims of traumatic spine injuries often require long-term medical treatment and aggressive rehabilitation programs. The typical rehabilitation methods used to treat spine injuries are physical therapy, occupational therapy, psychological support, recreation therapy, speech therapy, etc.

Wheelchairs, braces, and electrical stimulation devices would help the patient address the pain and discomfort, thereby providing independence in his daily activities. Spine injuries often demand extensive treatment making the victim physically, emotionally and financially unstable. Some patients may even demand life-long care and rehabilitation.

Endless battles with insurance companies, heaping medical expenses, seeking support from family and friends, and managing your daily life may be pretty disheartening. The victim may face enormous physical, mental, and emotional hurdles throughout his recovery. The lives of the loved ones of the victim would turn upside down.

Despite that terrifying brush with fate, the victim should seek compensation when someone else is at-fault for the spine injuries and the damages. Filing a lawsuit would help the individual receive a deserving compensation to manage his medical expenses and improve the quality of his life.

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