Frequently Asked Questions - What Type Of Spinal Injuries Do People Get In Car Accidents?
When you’re involved in an auto accident, there are numerous injuries that you can sustain. The worst injuries you can get are spinal injuries. Spinal injuries can cause mild to severe pain and often result in requiring surgery. If you opt not to undergo surgery, the pain is likely to stick around for the remainder of your life. Living in pain is not fun for anyone, no matter how minor the pain may be.
Some of the different types of spinal injuries you can have from an auto accident can range from whiplash to severe disc herniations. Knowing the difference between different types of injuries can help you determine what the best course of treatment would be for you in the long run. It’s always best to discuss different treatment options with your doctor in order to determine how to move forward with any procedures that are recommended for your injuries.
A minor spinal injury is a whiplash. Whiplash typically occurs when you are rear-ended and your head and neck is pushed forward and backward in a whipping motion, causing strain to your neck. If you sustain a whiplash-type injury, your neck will most likely be extremely sore the day after your accident and you will probably not be able to turn your neck so it may be a good idea to refrain from driving for a few days as this could be hazardous. If you sustain a whiplash injury, it would be a good idea to seek medical treatment with a chiropractor. There are multiple treatments a chiropractor can perform from physical therapy to manual adjustments. Sometimes your injury gets worse before it gets better so stick with the treatment and after a few days, you should begin to notice some improvement. If you do treat with a doctor, they will more than likely refer you for an MRI to determine if there are any underlying issues besides just the whiplash.
Another very common spinal injury you can sustain from an auto accident is a disc bulge. Your spine consists of discs made of fibrocartilage which are situated in between the bony vertebral body which allows your body to move and twist and bend. Once these discs are ruptured, you will experience a lot of pain. Your spinal disc is considered to be bulging once the annulus inside the disc bulges out and presses on the spinal cord and the nerves surrounding it. Treatment for disc bulges consists of physical therapy, epidural injections, and possibly spinal surgery, depending on how severe the bulge and the pain are.
You can also receive a total disc herniation from an auto accident. A disc herniation is when the spinal disc is ruptured and the inside of the disc is oozing out and touching the spinal cord and nerves. This type of rupture can cause radiculitis, pain to the upper and lower extremities which send shock waves throughout your entire body, causing pain and numbness, especially in the arms and legs. Typically, the only permanent treatment for a disc herniation is surgery. Your doctor can determine how severe the herniation is by reviewing the MRI films. There is an array of different surgeries that can be performed from a simple laser procedure to a full disc replacement or fusion.
If you have a disc bulge or herniation, facet or epidural injections may be recommended to try to relieve the pain. A facet injection involves a small amount of anesthesia or steroid medication which is then injected into the facet joints. A facet joint is a small joint in each spinal disc that provides motion to the body. An epidural injection is a corticosteroid and an anesthetic that is injected into the actual vertebra which surrounds the nerves and spinal cord. Most of the time, injections are temporary and the pain will more than likely return after a few weeks. If this happens, your doctor will probably recommend you undergo a surgical procedure.
Facet rhizotomy is one of the least invasive surgical procedures you can undergo. It involves an electric probe that is inserted at the nerve root to sever the nerve root to stop the brain from receiving pain signals. This is typically performed in your doctor’s office and requires relatively no downtime for recovery. You will be released into the care of someone who can drive you home and then you should be pretty much pain-free in the next few days.
One of the most invasive surgical procedures you can undergo is a disc replacement or spinal fusion. The doctor will recommend this type of surgery only if all other medical treatments, including physical therapy and injections, have failed first. A total disc replacement involves removing the injured spinal disc and replacing it with a prosthetic disc. Under this method, only one of the three joints at each disc is replaced, not the entire disc itself. The recovery period for this type of surgery can be about four to twelve weeks, depending on how many discs needed replacing. After the surgery, an MRI will be obtained to determine how well the spine is healing.
Spinal fusion is used when all other medical procedures have failed. If movement is the primary source of your pain, this type of surgery is more likely to be recommended as it limits movement in the spine. In addition to the spinal fusion, spinal decompression will probably be performed at the same time which involves removing bone and tissues that are pressing on the spinal cord and nerves. Spinal fusions are very invasive and require a bone graft to help fuse the hardware to the spine. This increases bone production and promotes healing. The bone graft can be taken from another portion of your spine if it can be harvested or can be used from a cadaver through a bone bank. The healing time for a spinal fusion can be upwards of six months or more and requires a lot of bed rest and extremely limited movement and activities.