Back Pain from Car Accidents – Understanding the Injury
Car accident injuries range in severity, but there are several that are most common. Back pain being one of them. According to the National Institute for Occupational Therapy and Health, it is estimated that low-back pain may affect as much as 80 to 90 percent of the general population in the United States. The Mayo Clinic says that back pain is one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor or miss work, and it is a leading cause of disability worldwide. “Most people have back pain at least once,” according to the clinic.
And, it’s no surprise that back pain is more common as you get older, beginning around age 30 to 40. Other risk factors include lack of exercise, excess weight, diseases, improper lifting, psychological conditions, smoking and trauma. Car accidents, falling in to the trauma category, can cause serious back injuries. The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center says that traffic accidents make up 38 percent of all spinal injuries (based on data collected from 2010 – 2015). After an accident, it’s important to know symptoms to watch out for and next steps. To better understand back injuries after a car accident, let’s walk through the injury classification system, types of back injuries, causes, diagnosis, treatment plan and general information on car accidents causing back pain.
Back Injury Classification System
Back injuries are classified using different systems. For example, muscle and soft tissue injuries can be classified using a grading system. Grade 1 is the least amount of damage to muscle fibers. Grade 3 is the most severe injury grade with the muscle being either completely torn or can’t function.
The AO spine injury classification system includes three categories (A,B and C) and identifies injuries based on damage to the vertebra.
Finally, there is the MSU classification system for herniated discs. This system also uses A, B, and C to distinguish severity of the disc protrusion from an MRI.
Types of Back Injuries from Car Accidents
Because the back is made up of muscles, tissue and bones, injuries can be wide-ranging.
Sprains and Strains
Both sprains and strains involve injuries to soft tissue in the back. According the Cedar Sinai healthcare organization, “When you overstretch a muscle in your back or tear a ligament, the area around the muscles will usually become inflamed.” This inflammation leads to back spasm, which can cause back pain. “This is because the spasm immobilizes the muscles in the injured area, acting as a splint to protect the ligaments and joints from further damage,” states the organization.
To fully understand a herniated disc injury, Atlanta chiropractor Dr. Geoff Tanner, says let’s first talk about discs within the vertebrae. “The discs are soft, spongy pads between each segment of your spine. They have a soft center and a hard outer layer to absorb shock, helping to keep the spine stable,” he says. He goes on to note that when a disc is herniated, the hard outer layer of the disc gets squeezed, cracks and ultimately the soft jelly material is slowly released. The result: pain in back pain, pain or sensation in different parts of the body and potentially physical disability.
There are two types of back fractures – compression fractures and lumbar fractures. The first refers to small breaks in the bones of the spine, possibly resulting in breathing problems, pain and, in some cases, permanent damage to the spine. Lumbar fractures are cracks in the lower or middle portion of the back. This region is especially prone to extension fractures (when the bone pulls apart. This is most common in head-on crashes.
Causes of Back Pain
Back injuries are caused by an injury or spinal degeneration, specifically:
- Improper movements while lifting heavy loads
- Overuse of a muscle
- Sudden forceful movements or direct trauma
- Age-related degeneration
According to the Mayo Clinic, “Back pain that comes on suddenly and lasts no more than six weeks (acute) can be caused by a fall or heavy lifting. Back pain that lasts more than three months (chronic) is less common than acute pain.”
Diagnosis and Treatment Plan for Back Pain
If you are wondering when to consult a medical professional regarding your back pain, then, in general, these are the characteristics for determining treatment:
- Back pain that follows trauma (car accident, falling, lifting heavy loads)
- Shooting or stabbing pain
- Pain in the back and/or abdomen that continues for more than four to six weeks and does not get better with rest and over-the-counter pain medications
- Severe pain at night that wakes you up
- Numbness in the upper inner thighs, groin area, buttock or genital area
Depending on your injury, treatment plans for back pain vary. Dr. Tanner says the first step is a physical evaluation. “It’s important to get checked by a chiropractor after an injury to make sure you haven’t suffered any short or long term damage. With injuries, such as a car accident, there is possibility of broken bones and/or injury to soft tissue such as muscles, tendons and ligaments,” he says.
To diagnose injuries, medical experts start with X-ray testing, to show the bones and hard tissue. This test rules out broken bones and asseses the position of the skeletal system. Dr. Tanner explains that if the evaluation leads to soft tissue damage, then he suggests a MRI to show all the muscles, tendons and ligaments and any other potential strain or tear.
Car Accidents and Back Pain
After a car accident, it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Back injuries are especially common in head-on and back-end collisions, as well as side impact crashes. The severity of back injuries in a car accident range from minor sprains and strains, to herniated discs and fractured bones. Sudden acceleration or deceleration puts added pressure on your back, leading to injuries that can be debilitating and costly.
Call Horst, Pirkle and Shewmaker, Personal Injury Trial Attorneys
If you are suffering from back pain after a car accident, then contact HS to discuss your options. Schedule a free consultation online or call 404-400-1175. HS attorneys pride themselves in knowing the car accident legal process best, especially in the state of Georgia.