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How a Car Accident Doctor Deals with Spinal Cord Injuries

How a Car Accident Doctor Deals with Spinal Cord Injuries

A spinal injury is one of the most severe car accident injuries a person can sustain. A car accident spine injury cannot only cause extreme pain and discomfort for the suffering individual but also, it can be debilitating. For some crash victims, spinal injuries can be fatal.

If you or a loved one sustained a spine injury in a car crash, you may now live in constant fear, worry, and doubt. How will you afford your medical bills, much less cover the cost of living? Will you ever be able to walk again? How can you overcome the emotional stress that your accident and injury triggered?

At Injured Call Today, we understand that you likely have dozens of questions and concerns. We also understand the stress you are under and have likely been under since the day of your accident. While we cannot guarantee the results of our treatment, we can tell you that we will do everything in our power to put your mind at ease by supporting you, both physically and emotionally, throughout your entire recovery journey. Following your initial exam, our car accident doctor will strive to help you understand your personal injury, explore and inform you of your treatment options, and take the steps necessary to avoid permanent damage and to maximize your recovery.

Types of Spinal Cord Injuries After a Car Accident

Unfortunately, spinal injuries are all too common in crash victims. In fact, according to the statistics, auto accidents account for nearly half of all new spinal injuries each year. The term “car accident spine injury,” though, is a broad one and merely refers to an injury that occurs along a person’s spine.

The spine consists of several components, including the vertebrae, discs, nerves, and spinal cord. Which components sustain injuries and where along the back they occur will heavily influence the impact an injury will have on your life. For instance, if a disc becomes injured, it may result in a pinched nerve, swelling, inflammation, and pain at the site of the injury. If a vertebra becomes damaged, it can affect parts of the body that are below the injury. In some cases, vertebrae damage can result in paralysis.

Whiplash after Car Accident

A car injury doctor can thoroughly evaluate your condition and perform the tests necessary to make an accurate diagnosis. Types of spinal injuries car accident doctors regularly see are as follows:

  • Whiplash: Of all the spinal injuries car crash victims are likely to develop, whiplash is the most common. Whiplash affects millions of Americans each year and is most commonly triggered by rear-end car accidents. Whiplash neck injuries occur when the sudden force of impact sends the head and neck flying forward and backward at unnatural angles and/or speeds. Though many health care professionals categorize whiplash as a soft-tissue injury, it affects the tendons, muscles, and ligaments within the cervical spine.
  • Herniated Discs: The spine houses up to 33 bony casings (called vertebrae) that serve to protect the spinal cord from injury. Between each casing is a rubbery, jelly-filled disc. These discs keep the vertebrae from rubbing together and help to support the spinal column. During a car accident, a disc can rupture, causing what medical professionals refer to as a “herniated disc.” When a disc ruptures, the gel-like substance leaks out and surrounds the spinal column and spinal nerves. This puts pressure on the nerves and can cause tingling, numbness, and shooting pain.
  • Bulging Discs: The impact from a car crash can also push a disc out of place. If a disc becomes dislocated but does not herniate, it may push out of its respective place and into the spinal column, creating a “disc bulge.” Most bulging discs eventually herniate.
  • Vertebral Fractures: Like other bones in your body, the vertebrae are prone to fractures and breaks. Fractures can be mild and heal on their own in time, or they can be severe and require extensive medical intervention. Most fractured vertebrae end up pinching or compressing the spinal cord, a condition medical professionals refer to as spondylolisthesis.
  • Spinal Cord Injuries: Spinal cord injuries (SCI) are the most severe of all the car accident spine injuries you can sustain. The spinal cord makes up one-half of the central-nervous-system, which means that damage that occurs to it can interfere with the brain’s ability to communicate with certain aspects of the body and vice versa. SCIs can be complete or incomplete. They often result in paralysis and can degrade brain function over time.

Symptoms of a Car Accident Spine Injury

The symptoms of a car accident spine injury vary as drastically as the conditions themselves. Accident victims may feel nothing at first but, within hours or days of the accident begin to develop the progressive symptoms of an injury. Common symptoms of an injury to the spine are as follows:

  • Feelings of dizziness
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Neck pain
  • Stiffness throughout the neck and shoulders
  • Headache that begins at the base of the skull
  • Loss of or limited neck movement
  • Muscle spasms
  • Pain that radiates through the legs and buttocks
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands, arms, feet or legs

If you develop any of these symptoms in the hours or days after a car accident, seek medical treatment from an accident injury doctor right away.

Emergency Signs and Symptoms

Some spinal injuries trigger symptoms immediately. When this happens, you should ask for transportation to the nearest car accident doctor directly from the scene of the crash. In some cases, you may sustain a severe injury but still not realize it until hours later. Severe injuries trigger specific symptoms you should not ignore. Signs that your car accident spine injury is a medical emergency are as follows:

  • Weakness or paralysis in any part of the body
  • Difficulty standing or walking
  • Loss of sensation in the toes, feet, fingers or hands
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Intense pressure in the neck, back or head

If you or a loved one develop any of these symptoms following an auto accident, head to your nearest emergency room immediately. If you have a traumatic spine injury, your emergency team should transport you to a nearby facility that has the resources and capacity to run the appropriate tests and perform emergency spinal surgery.

How Car Accident Spinal Injuries Occur

Auto accidents are the leading cause of spinal injuries in the United States, accounting for 39.3% of all cases annually. The only other type of incident that even comes close to causing as many injuries to the spine each year is falling, which accounts for 31.8% of cases.

How Car Accident Spinal Injuries Occur

The reason that car crashes cause such a high rate of spine injuries is largely because of the human-to-car weight ratio. The average human weighs between 136 and 178 pounds. The average passenger vehicle, on the other hand, weighs a little more than two tons, at 4,156 pounds. When a vehicle collides with another vehicle or with a fixed object, the human body absorbs the energy and shock from much of the weight of the vehicle, which is substantially more weight than the human body can bear.

Shock aside, it is not uncommon for the human body to get thrown around during an accident. If this happens, there is the very real risk that the back will collide with other structures or bend at unnatural angles. Moreover, the risk exists that an object within the vehicle — or a component of the vehicle itself — will penetrate the back. Any of these situations can, and often do, result in spinal injuries.

Preventing a Car Accident Spine Injury

Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do about the weight discrepancy between you and your vehicle. Because of this, you cannot fully eliminate the risk that you will develop a spine injury in an auto accident. However, you can take steps to reduce the severity of a possible car accident-related spine injury. Those include the following:

  • Always wear your seat belt when in a vehicle.
  • Abide by the posted speed limit.
  • Follow the rules of the road.
  • Drive defensively.
  • Never text while driving and try to eliminate all other distractions.

Most car accidents and, therefore, many spine injuries, are preventable.

The Consequences of a Car Accident Spine Injury

The consequences of a car accident spine injury are huge and many, and they can interfere with all aspects of a person’s life. Being unable to work is just the tip of the iceberg for many crash victims. Individuals who sustain spine injuries often become paralyzed and dependent upon others for everything from financial support to help with walking to daily assistance with simple tasks such as bathing, dressing, and eating. Your car accident doctor can inform you of the possible consequences of your particular injury and prepare you for treatment for and life with it.

Effects of a Spine Injury

The most devastating effect of a spine injury, and one that most accident doctors try to prevent with immediate treatment, is paralysis. Paralysis is a possibility if the spinal cord sustains any level of damage. Paralysis can be complete or partial and may be categorized as either quadriplegia or paraplegia.

Effects of a Spine Injury

Quadriplegia — which health professionals now refer to as tetraplegia — occurs when the damage affects the top of the spine or in the neck. With tetraplegia, you may feel little to no movement or sensation from the neck down.

Paraplegia only affects the lower half of the body, such as from the waist down. Paraplegia occurs when the damage is in the lower part of the spine. With paraplegia, impaired mobility typically affects the legs, feet and toes and may or may not affect the abdomen.

Spine injuries can cause a slew of other effects, with or without the presence of paralysis. Those may include but are not limited to the following:

  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Circulatory issues
  • Problems with your respiratory system
  • Decreased bone mass and muscle tone
  • Changes in sexual health
  • Chronic pain
  • Depression

These are all issues your accident injury doctors can help you anticipate and, with immediate and appropriate treatment, work to overcome.


The costs of a spinal injury are great, regardless of its severity. However, the costs vary greatly and are dependent on several factors, including your level of neurological impairment, your education and your pre-injury employment history.

The lifetime costs of a spine injury fall into two categories: Direct and indirect costs. Indirect costs include things like lost wages, productivity and fringe benefits. As of 2020, the indirect cost of a spine injury was just over $78,000 per year.

Direct costs include things like medical care, hospitalization, physical therapy, medical equipment, and surgery.

As of 2020, the lifetime cost of a car accident spine injury for direct costs were as follows for various injuries in terms of average annual expenses, estimated 1st-year costs, estimated lifetime cost (25 years), and estimated Lifetime Cost (50 years):

Loss of motor function: $379K, $46K, $1.7 million, $1.2 million

Paraplegia: $567K, $75K, $2.5 million, $1.7 million

Low Tetraplegia: $840K, $124K, $3.8 million, $2.3 million

High Tetraplegia: $1.6 million, $202K, $5.1 million, $2.8 million

Life Expectancy Post-Spine-Injury

People who live with spine injuries have lower life expectancies than those who do not. Though how greatly a spine injury can shorten one’s life depends on several factors, including the severity of the injury and his or her age at the time of the accident, the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center uses a 40-year-old with tetraplegia as an example. With an SCI, the 40-year-old has a life expectancy of another 24 years. A 40-year-old without an injury, however, has a life expectancy of another 41 years.

When To See a Car Accident Doctor in New York

Car Accident Doctor in New York

A car accident spine injury can take a huge toll on your life. To minimize its impact as much as possible, and to increase your odds of experiencing a complete recovery, get in touch with an accident injury doctor as soon after your accident as possible, even if you do not yet have symptoms of an injury. The sooner you receive a diagnosis, and the sooner you start treatment, the better your outcome is likely to be. Doctors accept no-fault insurance, PIP (Personal Injury Protection), workers’ compensation, medical liens, and most insurance plans. Request your first appointment today by submitting a form online.



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National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center: