More than 400,000 traffic collisions occurred on Florida’s roads, approximately 166,000 of which resulted in injuries, in one recent year alone. Preliminary data for the subsequent year hews close to the same trend, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and cyclists involved in traffic accidents can suffer a wide range of injuries depending on the type of crash and the speed at which the collision occurred.
Neck injuries are among the most common accident-related injuries. In severe cases, they might result in permanent disability and a lifetime of chronic pain and other residual issues. If you or a loved one has suffered a neck injury in a Florida motor vehicle accident, the law permits you to seek compensation for damages in civil court. Speak with a Florida auto accident attorney to discuss your case.
This guide provides in-depth information about neck injuries sustained in motor vehicle accidents, including how neck injuries occur, the common types of neck injuries, the common symptoms of neck injuries, and the long road toward recovery that accident victims usually face if they sustain a neck injury in a traffic accident.
The Science Behind Neck Injuries
Injuries from a motor vehicle accident are a result of biomechanics; that is, the way the human body interacts with the physical forces of a car accident. A combination of biomechanical stressors in an accident produces injuries.
Neck injuries might occur during an accident from a variety of stressors, including:
- Divergent motions between different areas of the body, such as the torso moving forward as the head falls backward.
- Direct contact with objects and items in a vehicle such as the airbag, steering wheel, or seat back, one of the most common biomechanical interactions leading to neck injuries.
- Excessive flexing and extending of neck tissues during impact.
Some other aspects of traffic collisions that can impact the likelihood of an injury include the duration of the collision, because sudden jolts to the head and neck during impact are more likely to cause a neck injury. A person’s tolerance for force based on their health, age, and weight can also impact the likelihood of a neck injury.
The specific action that leads to many neck injuries is the collision of facet joints in the spine during a traffic collision. Facet joints are the connection points between the vertebrae in your spine. These joints make you flexible, so you can bend and twist your body. When facet joints collide, you often cannot move your neck.
Types of Neck Injuries Often Sustained in Traffic Accidents
Biomechanical stressors during a traffic accident can lead to a wide variety of neck injuries depending on your speed upon impact and the type of collision. Some common types of neck injuries sustained in traffic accidents include:
When the head and neck quickly extend and flex upon impact in a traffic accident (typically a rear-end accident), the result can be damage to the soft tissue in the neck and upper back. Whiplash is named because the head quickly whips back and forth, but the best way to think of the injury is as a neck sprain or strain. Specifically, whiplash can be an injury to the neck’s facet joints, discs, ligaments, neck muscles, and nerves.
If you suffer whiplash you might experience symptoms such as pain and stiffness in the neck, headaches, chest pain, shoulder pain, and pains that shoot down your arm. You might also suffer from dizziness and back pain. Motor vehicle accidents, especially rear-end collisions, are the leading cause of whiplash injuries. Most whiplash victims make a full recovery within weeks or months. Yet, about 50 percent must cope with neck pain a year or more later and approximately 10 percent suffer from ongoing chronic pain that interferes with their daily routine.
Severe motor vehicle accidents can lead to cervical fractures, more commonly referred to as a broken neck. Your neck is comprised of seven bones, called cervical vertebrae. Those who don’t wear their seat belts while driving or riding in a motor vehicle are especially vulnerable to cervical fractures during a traffic accident. If you’ve suffered a broken neck, you know it’s a painful injury and it makes it difficult or sometimes impossible to move your head.
If the break has impacted your spinal cord, you might experience numbness in your hands and feet and difficulty with balance. Depending on the type and extent of the break and which vertebrae is broken, corrective surgery might be necessary. In less severe cases, those who have one or more cervical fractures might make a full recovery by wearing a neck brace and allowing time for the bones to heal.
Slipped or Herniated Discs
In between each of your vertebrae are spinal discs made of strong elastic tissue. These discs support movement of your neck and prevent your vertebrae from rubbing together. When you suffer an acute neck injury, such as a car accident injury, your discs can shift out of place. In some cases, a disc might slightly bulge.
The most severe cases included a herniated disc, or a slipped disc that gets dislodged from the spine. Each disc has an inner fluid that can leak when the disc bulges, making a herniated disc dangerous and painful. All spinal disc injuries can be painful and might also result in numbness throughout the body. Unfortunately, these types of injuries don’t typically heal on their own and require one or more corrective surgeries to repair and adjust the disc.
Spinal Cord Injuries
A spinal cord injury is among the most severe and costly of all motor vehicle accident injuries, and definitely the most severe of all neck injuries. The spinal cord carries signals to and from the brain to the rest of the nerves in the body. A spinal cord injury in the neck is close to the brain, causing the most damage. A piece of bone might get lodged in the cord or might cause small cuts or bruises to the spinal cord. These injuries can result in temporary or permanent paralysis depending on their severity.
Minor spinal cord damage might heal, but in most cases the spinal cord does not heal itself. Permanent damage from cervical spinal cord injury often includes paralysis from the neck down, more formally referred to as tetraplegia. Spinal cord injuries can be complete or incomplete; those who suffer complete injuries have no feeling below their injury and those with incomplete spinal cord injuries might have some feeling below the location of their injury. A car accident victim might have a cervical spinal cord injury if they immediately lose function or have trouble breathing.
Delayed Symptoms of Neck Injuries
It’s common for symptoms of accident injuries to take hours, or sometimes days, to show up. This is especially true of neck injuries. Sometimes car accident victims refuse medical treatment because they feel fine. A few days later they start feeling symptoms and aren’t sure what is wrong.
Even minor neck injuries can be dangerous if left untreated, so see a doctor as soon as possible. Failing to treat a neck injury might result in further injury or death. A doctor must examine the site of the injury and likely order diagnostic imaging to check for common neck injuries after car accidents. Not only does a doctor’s visit provide medical documentation for the insurance company and legal teams in a personal injury lawsuit, but more importantly, a medical exam might save your life.
If you skipped medical treatment, you need to watch for some of the most common delayed symptoms of neck injuries. If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should head to the doctor as soon as possible:
- Headaches, especially one that doesn’t go away or increases in severity;
- Neck and shoulder pain or stiffness;
- Back pain; and/or
- Numbness or tingling in your legs, arms, hands, or feet.
Recovering from a Neck Injury After an Accident
After suffering a neck injury in a motor vehicle accident, you will need plenty of time for recovery. The exact treatment you need will change based on the extent of your neck injury, and might include a combination of approaches. Some common treatments include:
Wearing a Neck Brace
When you hear about someone suffering from whiplash, you often picture them in a big white cervical brace. This is no longer the case. Doctors typically tell whiplash patients to let their injury heal without a brace. Yet, if you have suffered any other type of neck injury, you might have to wear a cervical brace for weeks or months to hold your neck in place, let it heal, and prevent you from experiencing additional pain.
Applying Heat and Cold
Alternating heat and cold is often used to help treat a neck injury. Heat alleviates tension in the muscles around the neck, which can help reduce pain. When swelling occurs because of a neck injury, a doctor might have you apply an ice pack to reduce swelling in the injured area. When neck injuries are severe, heating pads and ice packs won’t do much to help with potentially excruciating pain.
When motor vehicle accident victims suffer severe neck injuries, pain management is often a key part of their recovery. In the most extreme cases, pain management might be a lifelong pursuit. Doctors sometimes prescribe highly addictive prescription painkillers when over-the-counter remedies don’t help. Addiction is a common concern, so doctors might instead try other pain management solutions, such as cortisone shots or implanting a pain management device.
Returning your neck to normal function after an injury will likely include several visits to a physical therapist. Neck injuries cause stiffness and a loss in a person’s range of motion for head movement. Physical therapy can help victims rebuild their muscles in their neck to restore full range of motion. When a severe neck injury causes a victim to remain hospitalized and bed-ridden for a long time, physical therapy helps restore lost function to the level of recovery expected for a person’s long-term prognosis.
After a severe traffic accident, you want to feel better. Some accident victims find relief of their neck pain by visiting a chiropractor for regular adjustments. Before visiting a chiropractor, talk with your attorney. Some insurance companies view chiropractic care as a form of alternative medicine, so they won’t cover the costs for visits. Your best bet might be to visit an M.D. and physical therapist instead.
Those who suffer severe neck injuries and cervical spinal cord injuries likely have permanent damage that alters their ability to perform daily tasks in the same way they could before the accident and injury. An occupational therapist helps injured accident victims learn new ways to do things in light of their disability. Ultimately, occupational therapy goes beyond simple exercise and teaches victims how to cope with their injury and do as much for themselves as their body and injury will allow.
Mental Health Services
Some people don’t automatically think of visiting a psychologist or counselor after a severe traffic accident. Yet, severe accidents are traumatic events and a neck injury might permanently alter your life. Facing these changes can result in depression, anxiety, anger, frustration, and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Mental recovery from a severe accident is just as important as physical recovery, and psychological therapy can help accident victims work through any emotional distress or mental anguish they might be suffering from as a result of a severe neck injury.
If another party caused your neck injury, you shouldn’t have to suffer the financial impact of your injury on top of the physical and emotional pain you might experience. If you or a loved one suffered a neck injury in a car accident, a skilled auto accident attorney may help you through the claims process, advocate for your interests, and fight to get you the compensation you deserve, so you have the economic means to get the treatment you need.
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