Many people question whether medical treatment is necessary after a car accident. Some people do not feel any pain after such an incident, while others may feel minor pain that they attribute to simple muscle strain. However, it is possible to sustain injuries in even a low-impact car accident that are progressive, meaning they worsen with time. This means that no pain or minimal pain does not indicate the lack of a potentially serious injury.
It is important to keep in mind that the extent of damage to your vehicle and the speed you were going are not good indicators of the injuries you could have. Even a minor accident can result in injury to the neck and back. According to Autoinsurance.org, whiplash is the second leading cause of auto insurance claims, and back injuries are the third, the first being fender benders.
Common Neck Injuries
Whiplash is a highly common auto accident injury. It is characterized by injury to the soft tissues of the neck, including muscles, ligaments and tendons and occurs when the neck is forced to move beyond its normal range of motion. Even a slight jolt of the neck can result in whiplash. Emedicinehealth.com reports that accidents occurring at speeds as low as 15 miles per hour can cause whiplash.
Minor whiplash can be treated with anti-inflammatory medication, https://www.headandneckcenters.com/ ice and rest within the first 24 hours, then heat therapy and gradual re-mobilization. Severe cases of whiplash will require physical therapy to slowly and cautiously rebuild neck strength and flexibility.
A more serious injury may occur to the neck during a car accident involving spinal discs. The neck is supported by a segment of the spine called the cervical spine. Spinal discs sit between vertebrae and act as shock absorbers. They are comprised of a soft gel in the center surrounded by a tough exterior ring. The forces sustained during a car accident may be sufficient to damage spinal discs. This can result in a bulging or herniated disc, in which the internal fluids are either pushed to one side of the disc or leak out of a tear in the exterior ring.
Bulging or herniated discs in the neck can result in a condition known as cervical radiculopathy, characterized by the compression of nerves exiting the spinal cord. Cervical radiculopathy causes pain, weakness, tingling and numbness along the nerve pathway, often down into the arms. Nerves from the cervical spine also extend to the face and control the functioning of the senses. If not treated, permanent nerve damage can occur. This condition can take months to manifest. If any abnormalities in the neck, shoulders, arms or senses develop following an accident, it should be taken as a sign that a progressive neck injury was incurred and that medical attention is absolutely necessary. Physical therapy and spinal decompression treatments may be able to heal damaged discs.
Common Back Injuries
The muscles that support the spine are designed to activate prior to their anticipated use; this preemptive activation prepares them to perform work and stabilize the spine. The suddenness of an accident does not allow these muscles to activate before they are thrown into use. This can lead to soft tissue injuries (similar to whiplash in the neck) and spinal disc injuries throughout the back.
Soft tissue injuries may be treatable by a brief period of ice and rest combined with anti-inflammatory medication followed by heat treatment and a gradual return to activity. If pain persists beyond this, physical therapy may be required to restore strength and flexibility to the muscles, ligaments and tendons of the back.
The thoracic spine in the middle of the back and the lumbar spine in the lower back are susceptible to disc damage just like the cervical spine. If a disc in the thoracic or lumbar segments is bulging or herniated, nerve impingement can occur. At the thoracic level, effects may be felt throughout the upper and mid body. This includes organs as well. Lumbar disc damage can affect the sciatic nerves, which run down to the foot on each side. It can also result in abnormal function of the bowels, bladder and sexual organs.