With millions of people injured every year in car accidents, it comes as no surprise that neck and back injuries are number the top injury result. This is especially true of the lower back as the trauma after a wreck can be debilitating. The lower lumbar in our spines are especially susceptible to discogenic pain, and if you’ve suffered any disc damage, the intense discomfort will affect your mobility.
Keep reading to learn more about the types of injuries that cause lower back pain after an auto crash, as well as possible treatments to bring you needed relief.
Nothing is as scary or life-alerting as being involved in an unexpected accident. Vehicular collisions happen every day, and while some are relatively minor, many of them result in severe or even fatal injuries. If you are injured in an auto accident, you may be suffering from low back pain. In fact, low back pain is one of the most common side effects following an automobile accident. What you may not realize is that this low back pain can be more than just tight muscles or a few aches and pains—it can be an indication of a serious injury.
Here’s what every person needs to know about low back pain (LBP) and how to get the proper treatment for this condition following an auto accident.
When a car collision occurs it involves a great deal of force, whether the car is running into a stationary structure or hitting another vehicle. When this happens, the force of the collision, along with the stop in momentum caused by a seat belt, dashboard, or car door will eventually stop this motion. This jerking motion and change in force can generate a great deal of pressure on the spine and is known as whiplash.
Whiplash injuries can cause serious neck pain and back pain. The spine is not designed to handle this type of extreme force, and it can result in injuries to the discs or the facet joints along the spinal column. The lower portion of the back or the lumbar section of the spine is particularly sensitive to this whiplash motion.
In fact, low back pain is the most common type of back pain. With more than 80% of Americans reporting issues with low back pain at some point in their lives. The low back is so susceptible to injury following an extreme collision like a car accident because it is the most elastic part of the spine.
Injuries related to the spine can cause a variety of symptoms depending on which part of your back received the damage. The broad range of possible injuries may make symptoms difficult to treat at first, but those who seek expert care to get on the path to recovery and reclaim their lives. If you experience any of the listed injuries or symptoms after a car accident, arrange to speak with a healthcare provider as soon as possible to prevent worsening of your lower back pain.
The physics of force during a car accident have a lasting effect on our bodies whether the impact was at a high or low-speed. Our natural instincts kick in to protect us when the accident occurs by becoming tense and rigid. This resistance against the force of impact causes the strain we feel later when our released endorphins have worn off. That strain creates a constant back pain, which may last just a few days or possibly months.
It’s crucial to receive a physical assessment by a trusted physician to determine if there are more severe injuries to muscle and surrounding tissues. Ignoring muscle strain could lead to improper healing of small tears in the muscle, which could lead to chronic pain.
One of the most common injuries from a rear-end impact is whiplash. This condition affects our spine when we get forcefully thrown backward and then forward during the crash. Even though whiplash typically affects the neck, many crash victims also have lower back whiplash because of a collision throwing the body suddenly to a side, backward or forward. Muscles and ligaments in the low back that experience whiplash reacts much like the neck do with extreme soreness, stiffness, and possible loss of mobility due to pain.
Common symptoms of lower back whiplash include:
Typically, symptoms of whiplash disappear after a week or so, but you should visit your family doctor or a spinal doctor to make sure there isn’t a more serious underlying injury. Ignoring symptoms could lead to long term chronic pain and permanent muscle weakness.
Spraining or straining one’s lumbar spine creates excruciating symptoms that are difficult to manage. These types of injuries happen during a car accident when the force of impact stretches or tears the ligaments in your lower lumbar. The traumatic impact of another car into to resolve the initial damage to one’s spinal cord. Possible secondary problems that might occur are:
Lower back injury pain associated with spinal trauma should never go without treatment. Your physician will likely refer you to a specialist like a neurologist or an orthopedist depending on the nature of your spinal cord injury. Lack of appropriate care may lead to lifelong symptoms or permanent and irreversible damage.
Much like the situation for whiplash and muscle strain, the sudden force from a car accident may cause your lower back vertebrae to go out of place or create a fracture. This is a harrowing medical situation known as spondylolisthesis, which requires expert care for recovery. Symptoms of a fractured vertebra include:
The risks with a broken or moved vertebrae are the chance of bone fragments or possibly a disc causing damage to your spinal cord or nerves. This is a severe injury that requires immediate attention and underscores the importance of seeking a quick evaluation after an auto crash. Without appropriate care, one may suffer permanent damage and never fully regain muscle strength or require long term pain management.
Those who are familiar with back pain might only think of stenosis having to do with the aging of the spinal column. Many do not realize that spinal stenosis can occur due to injuries related to a car accident. Spinal stenosis is the condition where the spinal canal narrows, which adds pressure on to the delicate nerve roots of our spines. Lower lumbar stenosis presents symptoms like:
Recovery will depend on the severity of your accident injury and what treatment options are available. Your plan of care may start relatively conservative if your symptoms are mild, or you could need surgery right away with several months of follow-up care.
Chances of this lower back injury are hard to predict and requires evaluation as soon as possible to determine the best outcomes for your situation.
Spinal discs are the soft cushions our body uses to separate and protect our spines. The outer layer of these discs are durable, but when a car accident impact forces the inner materials of these discs to rupture, herniation occurs. If a disc doesn’t burst but moves out of its original positioning in the spinal column, it is also a herniated disc. This condition is painful due to the misplaced pressure put on the spinal nerves, which result in intense, sharp lower back pain.
Other symptoms of a herniated lower back include:
Herniated discs should receive an evaluation as soon as symptoms appear. If you consult your family practitioner, you may receive a referral to a chiropractor or orthopedist for further evaluation and treatment. Permanent damage like numbness could result if you do not see a doctor after a car accident for unexplained lower back pain. your vehicle may cause enough physical power to do this to your back.
The difference between a sprain and strain is the type of damage caused. A strain involves overstretching of the muscles, tendons and/or ligaments while a sprain means damage to the ligaments has happened. Both of these injuries have similar symptoms that may have a devastating effect on your daily life.
Common symptoms of lumbar sprains and strains include:
Back pain in the lower lumbar should get immediate medical attention. Do not attempt to ride out the symptoms in hopes they will correct themselves, but speak with your doctor about treatment options. Ignoring the signs can result in permanent damage to your lower lumbar, which impacts your overall core strength to support your entire body.
One of the most severe injuries one’s lower back can experience involves trauma to the spinal cord. Effects of a car crash on the spine are complicated and long lasting due to the intricate nature of our spine. Impact crashes that involve extreme whiplash, ejection, side impacts, and rollover create high-risk situations for this type of injury to occur.
Symptoms of a spinal cord trauma may include:
One can expect a higher chance for secondary medical issues due to the type of treatment needed.
After an auto collision, it’s vital to get your back assessed for any of these possible conditions. While you can take a wait and see approach, avoiding prolonging a visit to the doctor for a physical assessment after your crash. There are several different ways for your lower back pain to be assessed and diagnosed by an appropriate healthcare provider. Typical diagnostic testing and exams you can expect to experience when getting your back pain evaluated are:
These tests help determine a diagnosis and the severity of the damage your back sustained. From that point, your doctor can develop a treatment plan, refer you to a more suitable physician or specialist, and offer short-term treatment to help you through the beginning stages of your injuries.
Serious back injuries may require the use of surgical procedures to alleviate pressure on the spinal cord itself or the surrounding nerves. That can mean removing parts of vertebrae and even fusing vertebrae after the removal of a ruptured disk.
Let’s review some standard treatment options for any of the above conditions that may help you manage your traumatic injury in conjunction with your doctor’s prescribed treatment plan.
Pain is taxing on the body physically and mentally, so allow yourself some time to relax whenever possible. Rest allows your body to begin the healing process and may bring you short term relief from pain and mental exhaustion. Doctors recommend resting in bed the first few days after an accident to accomplish this.
Your back supports your entire body so long periods spent sitting can aggravate your condition further. Try to avoid riding in vehicles for extended rides and allow yourself frequent short breaks to walk around if stuck at the office all day. Your body needs good blood flow to heal so simple exercises like stretching will help a lot.
When dealing with muscle strains and sprains, soreness, and pain, alternating hot and cold packs on your affected area is a smart approach. Inflammation causes soreness, which makes ice an ideal solution to help minimize swelling and pain. Muscle stiffness due to whiplash needs heat to help thaw out those rigid muscles supporting your lumbar. It also causes a lot of soreness and flexibility issues which heat helps to alleviate by relaxing the muscles and allow you to stretch them out comfortably.
If you need pain relief, but don’t want to use heavy opioid-based pain relievers, everyday medicines like ibuprofen or acetaminophen may bring you some comfort. Anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen and naproxen are good options when dealing with muscular discomfort after a car accident. These medications are only a temporary solution and should not substitute as overall care.
One affordable way to improve your mobility is to wear a lumbar brace for your lower back. A back support may help bring some pain relief, better balance the pressure put on your strained muscles, and help you move around a bit better while recovering. These medical devices help to improve blood flow by using compression and help take the excess strain off your lower back.
When you experience lower back pain, many painful symptoms need care. A massage therapist can help relax the stiff muscles from whiplash and other strains so that you begin to experience less pain while improving your blood flow for healing.
Food plays a critical role in not just our overall energy levels but also in the healing processes of our bodies. When we get hurt in an accident, our body needs certain nutrients to help fuel our recovery. Specific foods can also help combat some of the painful symptoms we experience. Some of the best foods to help our bodies after a car crash include:
More conservative treatment may suffice for your lower back pain, and physiotherapists offer a wide variety of options to help. With a focus on the body’s musculoskeletal system, you may receive treatments like cryotherapy to reduce inflammation or therapeutic massage to relieve muscle spasms in your lower back. Other treatment procedures you may undergo at a physiotherapist office includes:
After a collision, many rely on chiropractors to assess, diagnose, and treat their injuries. Before any treatments, a chiropractor will thoroughly evaluate all of your health history, including the doctors currently treating your car accident injuries. If appropriate, you may have your spine manually adjusted in an attempt to relieve compression of your spinal nerves which may play a role in causing your lower back pain.
Chiropractic care is ideal for those looking for conservative treatment options first. Typical procedures you may receive at a chiropractic office are:
If the less invasive care from chiropractors and physiotherapists aren’t helping, you should consider consulting with an orthopedist. You may have the option to get a referral from your current care provider to see an orthopedist within the same network of physicians, which will make it easier for them to collaborate on your care.
Some treatments they offer that your regular doctor may not:
When visiting doctors in this field, you can expect them to have more options available for treatment for your low back pain, including surgery if needed. They will look for soft tissue damage, injuries to the bone and joints of your bodies, and craft a personalized care plan to get you on the road to recovery.
If you are experiencing low back pain following a car accident, it is vital that you seek professional care right away. Seeing a doctor for your low back pain will not only help you with the recovery process, but it will help make sure that your injuries and treatments are documented for insurance purposes.
Low back pain after an accident is traumatizing to the body physically and emotionally. It’s hard to know when the pain from this type of injury will go away or if it’s a symptom of a more significant health issue. With these injuries, low back pain sometimes won’t appear for hours, days or even weeks following the trauma—so even if you aren’t experiencing pain right away, you may still have sustained a serious injury and one the requires proper medical attention. After an auto crash, you should visit a doctor right away for assessment, even if you think you’re okay or that the pain you feel isn’t a big issue. Your doctor will take into account your overall health, pre-existing conditions from before the accident, and your current lower back pain situation to create a complete diagnosis.
It’s important to remember that healing takes time, and depending on your injuries, you might need a couple of weeks or years to recover fully. Try to allow yourself time to rest, get treated, and understand how your lower back pain might affect your day to day activities during this period. Also, know that you will get better and that your doctors are here to support you through your recovery emotionally too. Communicate with them regularly about your care plan and always consult them first before attempting any treatment options on your own.