Back pain is a common consequence of an auto accident. While it is not always apparent immediately after a car crash, many people experience back pain over the next few days and weeks. It may start as a dull pain that intensifies with movement, exacerbating to one that limits the person’s ability to move about normally.
According to medical sources, back pain can and will become debilitating if not addressed quickly. Since back pain may cause the accident victim lost time at work and an avalanche of medical bills, it is imperative that financial recovery occurs quickly. Finding the right auto accident attorney is a necessary prerequisite to obtaining the compensation you deserve when the accident is due to another person or entity’s negligence.
Diagnosing and Classifying Back Pain and Injuries
There are four ways to diagnose and classify back injuries. The first involves taking a medical history and physical evaluation by a physician. This provides information about how and when the injury happened along with physical signs and symptoms related to the injury. This usually occurs in the emergency room, a medical office or in an urgent care setting. Afterward, the doctor will usually order tests, comprising the next three diagnostic modalities.
X-rays are useful in visualizing fractures of the spinal column and malalignment of the vertebra, the bony housing through which the spinal cord travels. Computerized tomography or CT scans can locate problems in the soft tissues and to discover herniation of the vertebral discs, the soft cushion between the vertebrae, along with spinal stenosis. The latter causes the bony structures of the vertebral column to impinge on the spinal cord. Magnetic resonance imaging or MRI is used to see injuries to the muscles, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels by generating a 3-D computer image using magnetic forces.
Classification of Back Injuries
Once the pattern of injury is ascertained, the treating physician will classify it according to whether it is acute or chronic. Acute injuries are those that just happened in the past 30 days. Beyond that, for the next three months, the injury is called subacute. After three months, the pain becomes chronic, where symptoms persist beyond one year. This allows the physician to pinpoint when the injury happened, something that is vital immediately after a car accident.
Older injuries may be seized upon by the insurance company and defense team to try and prove that the victim’s pain is not due to the accident but to an earlier injury. The ability to differentiate between acute and chronic injury helps the personal injury lawyer prove that the accident caused their client’s symptoms. However, the presence of prior injury is not always detrimental to the case. In many instances, acute injury, besides causing pain in and of itself, aggravates previous injuries to the back that had long since ceased to affect the individual.
Cervical Spine Injuries
About 13 percent of all injuries to the back happen in the area of the cervical spine or the neck. The cervical spine is composed of seven vertebrae. The first two, C1 and C2, are called the atlas and the axis. The cervical spine not only supports the head but enables blood to reach the brain. It encloses the spinal cord that conveys nerve signals to the body from the brain.
Injury to this area of the spine usually involves cervical strain and sprain, also referred to as whiplash, disc herniation and fracture. Treatment revolves around pain management, physical therapy and surgery.
Mid and Lower Back Injuries
The mid-back or thoracic area extends from thoracic vertebra one through 12 and lies midway between the neck and lower back. The thoracic spine represents the longest portion of the spine. It attaches to the cervical spine above and the lumbar spine below. It is the only portion of the spine that connects with the ribs. The most common injury in the thoracic spine is a compression fracture where the height of an individual vertebra is reduced by 15 to 20 percent. This can cause pain due to impingement of the spinal cord.
Lower Back Injuries – Lumbosacral Spine
The next area of the spine is referred to as the lumbosacral spine. This is a combination of the lumbar spine and the sacral portion of the spine. The lumbar spine consists of five vertebrae designated L1 through L5. It extends from the thoracic or mid-spine area to the sacrum. The sacral spine extends from the last lumbar vertebra to the coccyx or the tailbone and is called the sacrum. It comprises the posterior wall of the pelvis. The sacral spine provides support for the pelvis. Injury in this area is painful and may affect the sacroiliac nerve which courses through the area on its way down to the legs on either side.
The sacrum can be fractured and so can the coccyx or tailbone. Damage to the sacrum can cause sacroiliac pain, which is felt in the buttock and the lower back. Treatment is usually symptomatic. The lumbar vertebra can be fractured, and intervertebral discs can be herniated. Spinal fractures are a serious injury that can limit a person’s physical activity.
Common Back Injury Symptoms
Symptoms related to a back injury vary, according to the type of injury. Here are some of the most common:
- Whiplash: Whiplash is often seen in crashes where the body is thrown backward and forward in a whip-like motion. This often happens in hit-from-behind accidents. Common symptoms include: headache (often at the base of the skull), neck and back stiffness, fatigue and dizziness.
- Herniated disc: This happens when the soft-gel like material in the center of the disc leaks out. This causes pressure on the spinal nerve exiting at that level. Some herniated discs cause symptoms such as weakness, numbness, tingling and/or arm and leg pain. Depending on the circumstances, surgery such as vertebral fusion may be needed. In other cases, symptomatic relief is sufficient.
- Spinal fractures: In an accident, the spinal bones may be damaged or the vertebrae compressed. The area may be painful and swollen, and the person may experience numbness and tingling. These can involve compression fractures as well as flexion-distraction or dislocation fractures.
- Spondylolisthesis: This occurs when one of the many vertebrae becomes displaced and slips forward over the vertebra below it. Individuals can experience pain and numbness in the legs and buttocks, problems walking and urinary or bowel incontinence.
- Damage to the soft tissues: This common outcome of an auto accident includes tearing or stretching of the muscles, ligaments and tendons in the back at any level. This injury can cause swelling, pain and stiffness.
Spinal Injury Statistics
Spinal cord injuries occur due to violent trauma to the back. Characteristics of such injuries show that males are more likely to have spinal cord injury than females by a ratio of 56 to 41 percent. The highest number of injuries were in the 29-to-30-year-old age group. They are usually associated with limb, pelvic and head injuries (73, 21,16 percent respectively).
Sixty-four percent of spinal injuries occur in rollovers compared to 21 percent in other car collision types. Seventy-nine percent of those injured are driving the vehicle, while only 21 percent are passengers. Fifty-nine percent are injured in the lumbar area, while 19 percent and 13 percent show damage at the thoracic and cervical levels respectively.
Results of Spinal Cord Injury
Injury to the spinal cord results in partial or complete loss of sensation, function and strength below the level of damage. Injuries to the cervical spinal cord have the most devastating results. Loss depends on the area of the spinal cord that is damaged. For instance, damage at C1-C4 causes an inability to breathe without mechanical assistance, inability to speak, total paralysis below the level of injury, including the arms, torso and legs. It also causes total incontinence and bowel dysfunction and the inability to care for oneself. Injuries lower in the spine cause loss of function derived from that area of the spinal cord.
Types of Spinal Cord Injury
There are two types of spinal cord injury: complete and incomplete. Complete spinal cord injury is one where the spinal cord is completely severed, and all function is lost below the area where it was severed. Incomplete spinal cord injury is one where the cord is not completely severed, allowing the person to retain some function. The degree of function depends on the amount of damage. Partial damage is further divided into:
- Anterior cord damage: This allows the person to retain some sensation, but movement and other sensations are damaged.
- Central cord: This involves damage to the center portion of the cord and interferes with the transmission of signals between the brain and the spinal cord, resulting in loss of fine motor capabilities and paralysis in the arms with little leg paralysis.
Other Spinal Cord Injuries
Some additional spinal cord injuries include:
- Tetraplegia: This is also known as quadriplegia and involves paralysis of all four limbs. It occurs due to a cervical spine injury. Bowel and bladder, as well as respiration and speech, are affected. The higher the lesion is on the cervical spine, the greater the impairment.
- Paraplegia: This involves paralysis of the lower or upper limbs.
- Triplegia: One arm and both legs are paralyzed in this incomplete cord injury.
General Auto Accident Statistics
There are over six million car accidents in the United States every year from which approximately 600,000 people become disabled and three million are injured. While an accident at 10 mph may not damage a vehicle, one at half that speed can cause back injury. In the two years following an accident, almost 20 percent of victims experienced worsening symptoms, and 75 percent remained symptomatic six months after the accident occurred. Since most people will be involved in a car accident at least once every six to 10 years, the possibility of becoming a casualty of the road is pretty high.
First Steps to Take If Your Back Is Injured
Immediately after an accident, if you believe your back was injured, the best thing you can do is remain still and call for an ambulance by calling 911 or have someone at the scene do it for you. Medical personnel will make sure your neck and back are immobilized before transporting you to the emergency room, lessening the chance the injury will worsen.
Compensation in Vehicular Back Injury Cases
Who actually pays for back injuries in an automobile accident? According to the Insurance Research Council, the victim’s auto insurance pays for the damages in 63 percent of cases while 55 percent of those injured obtain compensation from the negligent party’s insurer. The victim’s own health insurance pays for 36 percent of the financial cost for medical care, and 19 percent are paid by workers’ comp when the injury happens during the performance of work-related activities. Approximately 60 percent of individuals have at least two payment sources.
Settlement and Verdicts for Back Injury
The amount paid for a back injury varies, depending on the case. However, overall, 16 percent of verdicts for back injuries are over $1 million and 7 percent are greater than $2.5 million. The damages include both economic and noneconomic ones as well as punitive damages in some cases. Economic damages are those that are easily calculated such as loss of wages and medical expenses. Noneconomic damages are those that reflect pain and suffering, loss of consortium and other damages. Punitive damages, on the other hand, are not those related to a specific monetary loss but are used as a way to punish the negligent party for egregious harm. They are decided by the jury in most cases.
How a Car Accident Lawyer Can Help
Back injuries can be complex, and it is necessary to provide ample evidence to prove negligence. Complete documentation is necessary, including medical and police reports, among others. In addition, since back injuries can range from soft tissue damage to spinal cord injury, it is necessary to prove the impact the injury has on the person’s life. Experts are used to documenting the impact the accident had, and show the monetary loss the injury had.
Los Angeles Back Injury Attorney – David Azizi
If you’ve been injured in a car accident and are experienced back pain, please reach out to the Law Offices of David Azizi for a free review of your important injury claim. You can contact us online or by calling (800) 991-5292.