Maybe you are one of the lucky ones who has not experienced the sickening crunch and smash of a car accident, but for the rest of us, the crumpled car may be just the beginning of the journey. Even if we step out of the car, seemingly uninjured, once the adrenaline of the accident subsides, you may need treatment for injuries that occurred. Here’s what you need to know about car accident injuries (and what to watch out for!).
What are the effects of car accident injuries?
Motor vehicle injury (MVI) is a burden on the healthcare system in the United States. People are brought into the emergency room everyday with injuries caused by motor vehicle accidents. In the U.S. alone, motor vehicle costs an estimated $230 billion dollars annually (that’s $820 for every person in the U.S.).
Globally, approximately 1.2 million people (over 3,275 a day) are killed in motor vehicle accidents each year, and a third of those are under the age of 25.
As many as 50 million people are injured in car accidents every year. Unless there is further intervention to prevent these road injuries, the World Health Organization projects that car accidents will be the fifth leading cause of death by 2030.
What are the most common car accident injuries?
Other than abrasions and broken bones, most common car accident injuries occur due to physics. When you get into an accident, the car stops suddenly, but your body continues without you. Your seatbelt will keep you in place, but there is a space when your body effectively slams into your restraint.
Even though seatbelts save lives, the slamming action of your body stopping after the car itself has stopped can cause serious injury all the way up and down your spine.
Whiplash is one of the most common car accident issues that can occur even at low speeds. The majority of car accidents are rear-impact collisions that occur at speeds of 14 mph or less. While these low-speed collisions may not be enough to damage the vehicle, damage to the neck in the form of whiplash can occur at speeds as low as 2.5 mph.
As noted above, the physics of a car accident accounts for whiplash injury. At the end of the body’s movement, the significant stress of the jerking, stopping motion can cause injury to the bones and soft tissues in the neck. Tendons are also strained as the neck hyperextends and exceeds its normal range of motion.
Whiplash can show up as stiffness or soreness in the neck that can gradually worsen if left untreated. Many people in car accidents don’t realize they are injured until they wake up with a stiff neck the next morning or even in the days following the accident. An estimated 15% to 40% of patients who have untreated acute neck pain will eventually develop chronic neck pain.
Sciatica occurs when damage or trauma impacts the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in your body, attaching to the lumbar spine and running across the buttocks and down the hips to the feet.
In a car accident injury, sciatica can be caused when the sciatic nerve is compressed or otherwise injured. This can cause tingling and numbness in the buttocks and legs as well as radiating pain that moves down the legs and into the feet. Left untreated, sciatica can be debilitating.
In severe cases, sciatica can also cause incontinence and loss of bowel control. Any sign of this loss of control, or any weakness or loss of movement in the lower limbs, is a sign of a true medical emergency. Get immediate medical attention.
Lower back pain
Lower back pain can involve the soft tissues and muscles of the back, including the quadrature lumborum, a large band of muscle that wraps around the back of your waist. These muscles can experience bruising and trauma during a car accident. Additionally, the lumbar spine can sustain fractures or movement of the vertebrae that can result in lower back pain.
Of all types of back pain, lower back pain is the most common type. Chronic lower back pain can result in years of lost wages and lost time with friends and family. For patients who already experience intermittent back pain, a car accident may also worsen their condition.
Mid and upper back pain
Severe back pain can occur in the area of the thoracic spine. The thoracic region is where your ribs connect to the spine. Any injury to the organs or ribs can also cause back pain that requires treatment.
The thoracic region of the spine is generally very stiff in most people. It also provides the structure and stability needed to protect vital internal organs. Pain in this area due to car accident injuries can have lasting effects on a patients’ ability to function in their daily lives.
Treatments for car accident injuries
While back, neck, or other pain after a car accident may seem at first mild and unworthy of medical attention, it is difficult to know how severe the injury might be without a thorough examination directly after the accident. No matter how minimal, consider visiting your doctor after the accident to be sure you haven’t experienced any injuries.
Car accident injuries don’t appear as just bruises and cuts. If you are in a car accident, you might also experience other symptoms, including:
- Tingling in the extremities
Comprehensive treatment after a car accident will include addressing all of your injuries and symptoms.
For car accident injuries, treatment typically starts with rest. While most doctors advocate movement to treat back injuries, when you are in a car accident it’s important to take it easy the following day. You may find a day of rest and care is enough to relieve minor injuries.
As you work through your treatment plan, getting proper nutrition and plenty of exercise can help. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy and regular exercise to help regain strength and support around the spine.
Your doctor may also recommend non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain and inflammation that occurs in all types of injuries. Hot and cold therapy can provide comfort. Follow your doctor’s recommendations as to which to apply first. Generally, cold therapy (e.g., ice packs) reduce swelling and inflammation, and hot therapy (i.e., heating pads and topical warming gels) soothe tight and sore muscles.
Chiropractic manipulations and acupuncture may also relieve the pain of car accident injuries as well.
If you experience persistent neck or back pain after a car accident, further treatments may be necessary.
Sometimes, these interventions can help your make a better diagnosis. Facet joint injections and medial branch blocks, for example, can help determine whether the facet joints are the cause of your pain. If the facet joints are the culprit, radiofrequency ablation typically provides significant relief for an estimated eight to 12 months and can be repeated as needed.
Other interventional treatments for car accident injuries include:
- Cervical steroid injections
- Spinal decompression
- Active Release Technique® (ART)
- Cervical steroid injections
- Medication management
What to do after an accident
After a motor vehicle accident, you should go to a hospital to rule out more serious complications that may ensue following a collision. If these complications have been ruled out and you are still feeling discomfort, it’s important to see your doctor for treatment.
At Arizona Pain, we have comprehensive pain management and chiropractic treatment protocols especially designed for those who have suffered from car accident injuries. When you make your appointment, our highly qualified, board-certified pain management specialists will conduct a thorough physical examination, evaluate all of your symptoms, and review the circumstances of the car accident before developing a holistic, comprehensive plan to treat your injuries.
We also understand that one of the most stressful parts of dealing with the aftermath of a car accident is the financial and legal aspect of the car accident injuries. At Arizona Pain, we work with victims’ attorneys and insurance companies to make receiving treatment as hassle-free as possible. Our goal is to get our patients back to the pain-free life they had before their car accident. We have multiple convenient locations across Arizona.
At Arizona Pain, we want to help relieve your pain and improve function to increase your quality of life. We help you focus on getting your life back; get in touch today!