Between one-quarter and one-third of all spinal cord injuries result from motor vehicle accidents. According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, this makes vehicular accidents the number-one cause of spinal cord injuries.
Not all of these spinal cord injuries are serious; most patients recover fully from them. Nevertheless, there is a chance of a serious spinal cord injury from an MVA that could result in partial or complete paralysis. Spine Universe describes some common spinal cord injuries from MVAs.
1. Vertebral fracture
A vertebral fracture is a break in one or more of the bones of the spinal column. Vertebral fractures are one of the most serious injuries that are possible from an MVA. Fortunately, however, they are relatively rare because cars today have increased safety equipment.
During an accident, especially a rear-end collision, the head can jerk violently back and forth. Whiplash is a general term for the resulting trauma to tissues in the neck and the symptoms that can arise from it. Such symptoms include stiffness and pain, numbness and tingling, as well as limited neck movement.
While whiplash usually is not serious, some patients experience complications such as chronic pain.
3. Herniated disk
Between the bones of the spinal column are softer structures called intervertebral disks that help prevent injury to the spine by working as shock absorbers. Each disk consists of an outer layer of fibrous cartilage and a softer, gel-like inner layer. The impact from an MVA can cause traumatic tearing of the outer layer, allowing the inner layer to leak out, a condition called disk herniation.
Herniated disks can range in severity and occur at any level of the spine. The herniation can put pressure on the spinal cord itself or the nerve roots that extend from it. The pressure can cause symptoms of numbness, tingling, muscle weakness or burning pain.
The nerves affected by a herniated disk depend on the level of the injury. Disk herniation in the neck may cause symptoms in the arms, while leg symptoms are more likely to result from a herniated disk in the low back.