The holidays are just around the corner! Getting away from work, spending time with friends and family, and enjoying delicious foods, the holiday season is supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year.” However–despite the best wishes we are making–holidays have a high incidence of car accidents.
As the physical supporter of the head, the neck is very vulnerable to car accidents. Common types of car accident neck injury include the following:
- Whiplash: Also known as neck sprain or strain, whiplash is the most commonly known car accident neck injury. It generally refers to injuries to cervical soft tissue such as the muscle, ligament, and tendon. Whiplash is usually caused by a rear-end collision, in which the head is forced to suddenly move backward (hyperextention) and then forward (hyperflaxion). Symptoms of whiplash include neck stiffness, neck pain, headache, dizziness, and shoulder or back pain. It’s important to know that whiplash-caused neck pain may present immediately, or a few days later, after a car accident. Treatment options for whiplash include pain and anti-inflammatory medication, muscle relaxants, a cervical collar or brace, motion exercises, physical therapy, and cervical traction.
- Herniated discs: A car accident can tear the outer layer of an intervertebral disc (annulus) and cause the disc to bulge or extrude, a condition called herniated disc. A herniated disc may compress the nerve root and cause pain, tingling, numbness, and weakness in the extremities. Minimally invasive spine surgery has been proven safe and effective in treating herniated discs.
- Fractured vertebrae: A fractured vertebra is a more serious car accident neck injury than whiplash and a herniated disc. Symptoms of fractured vertebrae include headache, severe neck pain that may radiate to the shoulders and arms, and bruising and swelling in the neck. Because fractured vertebrae may injure the spinal cord and result in paralysis, this type of car accident neck injury requires immediate medical treatment. Depending on the extent of a fracture, treatment options for fractured vertebrae vary from a cervical collar or brace (for minor fractures) to surgical repair (for serious fractures).
- Dislocation of the neck: In a car accident, the sudden backward and forward motion and the extreme rotation of the head could tear the ligaments of the neck and pull the cervical vertebrae apart, causing the cervical vertebrae out of alignment. Neck dislocation is another type of serious car accident neck injury. It’s often accompanied by fractured vertebrae and may cause spinal cord injury. Treatment options for a dislocated neck include pain and anti-inflammatory medication, a neck collar/brace, physical therapy, and cervical surgery.
Like the neck, the back, especially the lower back, also can be easily injured during a car accident. Common types of car accident back injury include ligament sprains, muscle or tendon strains, herniated discs, and fractured vertebrae. Symptoms of car accident back injuries include back pain that may radiate to the buttocks, legs, and feet; muscle spasms; tingling; numbness; bruising and swelling in the back.
Ligament sprains, muscle spasms, and tendon strains, all of which are soft tissue injuries, generally respond well to heat or ice treatment and physical therapy. Herniated discs and fractured vertebrae, however, often require back surgery to reduce the pain and repair the vertebrae.
Accidents happen. But we can reduce the incidence of car accidents, as well as car accident neck and back injuries, by being responsible drivers. As the holidays approach, let us wish for a lower incidence of car accidents and that no one suffers from car accident neck or back pain this holiday season.