Many accident victims suffer from back and neck pain and injury after a collision. However, an accident with a semi truck or commercial vehicle is even more likely to cause severe back, neck, and spine issues.
In Texas, commercial vehicles weigh up to 33 times as much as compact cars. And when these two types of vehicles collide, the passenger vehicle occupants typically take the brunt of the impact, which can result in very serious injuries.
The neck and back are particularly susceptible. Our necks are extremely flexible, allowing for a wide range of motion. However, this also makes them less stable, and therefore easier to injure. Additionally, because the human neck and back are not designed to absorb the shock of a massive impact, the jarring motion of a collision can cause serious tissue, joint, and nerve damage. Blows to the spine can cause lifelong injuries, impairment, and pain.
There are several back and neck injuries we see the most frequently among accident victims. Here’s what you need to know — and what to do if you think you might be injured.
Table of Contents
Whiplash and Facet Joint Injuries
Whiplash, a type of neck sprain or strain, is one of the most common injuries in rear-end auto accidents. This condition occurs when the neck is rapidly whipped back and forth due to the force of a collision, damaging the soft tissue and bone structures in the neck. In serious whiplash cases, the joints where the vertebrae connect can be damaged, resulting in chronic inflammation that can last a lifetime.
Whiplash typically heals in a few weeks with medical treatment, but occasionally it can become more serious, resulting in chronic neck pain. In this case, your doctor may recommend physical therapy and pain medication, which can result in higher medical bills.
Symptoms of whiplash include:
- Neck pain and stiffness, especially when moving the neck
- Pain in the shoulder, upper back, or arms
- Tingling or numbness in the arms
Spinal Fractures or Dislocations
A serious collision with a commercial vehicle can also cause damage to the vertebrae and surrounding ligaments in the spine. Spinal fractures occur when a part of the bone sustains intense pressure, causing it to break, fracture, or shatter. Spinal fractures can put pressure on the discs and nerves in the spine, resulting in additional complications.
Spinal dislocations occur when the ligaments surrounding the vertebrae are torn or stretched so that the bone slips out of place. Dislocations can also cause nerve damage and other chronic issues.
It is not uncommon for fractures and dislocations to occur together. Both may be healed with more conservative treatments, such as pain medication, rest, physical therapy and back bracing. However, if those treatments fail, your doctor may recommend surgery. In either case, a spinal fracture or dislocation will likely limit your ability to perform daily tasks and may result in high medical bills and lost wages due to missed work.
Possible symptoms include:
- Pain in the neck or back
- Numbness and tingling
- Muscle spasms
- Weakness and fatigue
- Loss of bowel control
- In some cases, paralysis
Herniated or Bulging Discs
The force of an accident may harm spinal discs — the cushions that sit between the vertebrae of the spine. A disc can shift or tear, potentially placing pressure on surrounding nerves. This condition, known as a herniated disc or bulging disc, can be debilitating, resulting in intense pain that can make it difficult to resume normal activities after an accident.
If you are diagnosed with a herniated or bulging disk, your doctor will likely recommend rest, physical therapy, pain medication, and steroid injections. If those treatments don’t work, you may need to have surgery.
The most common symptoms of a herniated disc are:
- Intense, lasting arm or leg pain
- Numbness or tingling
- Muscle weakness
- In some cases, loss of bowel or bladder control
Spinal stenosis occurs when the space around the spinal column begins to narrow. This in turn can put pressure on the nerves, causing pain, numbness, and other symptoms. Although the condition can be brought on with age or repetitive use, it can also be the result of severe trauma from a car accident. Additionally, even if spinal stenosis is a result of wear and tear over the years, it can be worsened by the trauma of the collision.
A doctor will often prescribe a combination of the following: physical therapy, steroid injections and pain medication. More severe cases may require spinal decompression surgery.
Symptoms of spinal stenosis include:
- Worsening pain in the back or neck
- Numbness, tingling, or weakness in a hand, arm, foot, or leg
- Bowel or bladder issues
- Cramping in the legs
- Problems with balance
Spinal Cord Injuries
In some cases, a serious commercial vehicle accident can result in damage to the spinal cord, the bundle of nerves and tissue that connect the brain to almost all other parts of the body. Although less common than the other spinal injuries, spinal cord injuries are severe and can lead to permanent loss of mobility or even paralysis. These injuries may require lifelong medical treatment and fundamentally alter a person’s ability to care for themselves, earn a living, communicate with loved ones, and enjoy life.
Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to repair the spinal cord once it is damaged. Instead, treatment will focus on rehabilitation and pain management to help the victim obtain some relief from their symptoms and regain motor function as much as possible.
The following symptoms are associated with spinal cord injuries:
- Loss of movement
- Loss of sensation
- Inability to control the bowels or bladder
- Involuntary spasms
- Intense pain and stinging
- Difficulty breathing or coughing
Don’t Wait to Speak to a Doctor
If you have been involved in an accident with a large commercial vehicle, you should schedule an appointment with a physician right away — even if you feel fine at the moment. Only a qualified medical professional can properly diagnose your injuries. And many conditions, particularly spinal problems, do not exhibit symptoms right away.
Delaying treatment can impact your health and may make it harder to obtain the compensation you need to recover. At FVF, our auto accident attorneys can help you not only protect your rights in a car accident but also obtain medical care, estimate future medical costs and identify ways to pay for them. Contact us today for your free, no-pressure consultation.