How Car Accidents Can Cause Damage to Cervical Discs

Key Points:

  • Neck injuries are common in car accidents because the unsupported neck is prone to severe and sudden jolts.
  • Some neck injuries can take hours, days, or even weeks to appear. Seeing your doctor as soon as possible after an accident can help determine if there is any damage.
  • Neck injuries can be difficult to prove without medical records and physician input.
  • A car accident lawyer who understands spinal injuries can help you obtain full and fair compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

Try as they might, automobile manufacturers can do little to protect the neck and head from car accident-related trauma, even with modern-day car safety features. When a collision occurs, the unrestrained head and neck whip back and forth – coining the term whiplash. However, whiplash is only one of the serious neck injuries that may occur in a car accident.

Rear and side impacts are also common culprits in neck injuries because of the way inertia induces head movement in these accidents. While all neck injuries are different, some can be incredibly expensive due to the need for ongoing medical care. In severe cases, neck injuries can even be life-changing and limit victims’ capabilities and movement.

What Are Cervical Discs?

The spinal column is a complex structure that runs from your head to your tailbone. It is flexible but very susceptible to trauma of all kinds.

The spinal column is divided into sections. From your head downward, these sections include the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar regions.

The first seven vertebrae in your spine make up your neck, or the cervical spine. While the remainder of your spine is surrounded by your body, the neck has no such armor.

The discs separate the vertebrae in the neck and act as cushions between the bones. These cervical discs are meant to be shock absorbers, minimizing trauma when the head and neck are subjected to violent movement.

Common Cervical Disc Injuries

An automobile accident – even a minor one – can cause various types of neck injuries. Some injuries that can occur to the cervical include:

  • Cervical Spondylolisthesis

These injuries happen when one or more vertebrae dislocate or slip out of alignment. A vertebra may compress nerves or the spinal cord, causing pain to radiate to the back of your head or shoulders – such injuries range from mild to severe. 

  • Slipped or Herniated Disc 

The discs between your cervical vertebrae are jelly-filled structures meant to absorb shock to protect your vertebrae. During a collision, the discs may slip out from between the bones, rupture, or bulge. Slippage may cause the disc to compress the nerves in the spinal cord. 

When a disc bulges or ruptures, the jelly-like substance may leak out of the disc, pushing against your vertebrae and compressing nerves. Disc injuries usually involve pain in the neck or arms and numbness due to pinched or compressed nerves.

  • Pinched Nerve

Damaged tissues, bones, discs, or tendons that shift out of place can crowd or compress surrounding nerves. This type of injury can cause severe pain, tingling, and numbness. Pinched nerves are often associated with a muscle strain, sprain, or disc damage. 

  • Muscle Spasms

In addition to neck injury symptoms, you may also have twinges in your shoulders, back, and arms. In most cases, this cramping happens because your muscles tensed up or were overstretched during the accident. As a result, swelling and inflammation occur, affecting the nerves around the injured area.

Your body attempts to protect injured areas by contracting and immobilizing muscles around it. Your muscles may tighten and loosen in rapid succession, causing significant pain. Because it takes time for inflammation to build up, neck spasms could be delayed after a car accident. 

How Neck Pain Is Diagnosed

Because untreated neck injuries can cause continuing or worsening pain, it is always a good idea to see a physician following an accident. Your doctor may use X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) to check for damaged soft tissues. In some situations, your doctor may refer you to a chiropractor or orthopedist.

It is also not uncommon for concussions to occur along with neck injuries. Therefore, doctors may monitor you for concussion symptoms, such as confusion, sleepiness, or trouble talking. 

Symptoms and Complications That Cervical Disc Injuries May Cause

After a collision, you may experience a range of symptoms, from minor pain or stiffness to excruciating pain or nausea. Symptoms may not always occur immediately; sometimes, they take hours, days, or even weeks to develop.

The following are common symptoms of a neck injury caused by a car accident:

  • Inability to turn your neck from side-to-side or look up and down without pain
  • Neck stiffness
  • Pulsing, sharp, or shooting pain
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness or nausea
  • Soreness in your neck or at the back of the skull
  • Chills or fever
  • Back or shoulder area pain
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle spasms in your neck area
  • Memory problems or trouble staying focused
  • Inability to fall asleep
  • Anxiety, depression, or irritability
  • Numbness or tingling in your arms
  • Blurred or fuzzy vision
  • Ringing in the ears

Complications of a herniated disc can include:

  • Inability to control bladder or bowel
  • Permanent nerve damage
  • Continuing and progressive pain, weakness, and deterioration of muscle function
  • Partial or total loss of feeling in the inner thighs, back of legs, and rectal area, known as Saddle Anesthesia 

These complications of disc injury can be debilitating, making everyday tasks extremely challenging or impossible.

How Disc Injuries Are Treated

Because all disc injuries are different, it is impossible to tell what will be required to heal or otherwise mitigate the consequences of your injury without the help of a physician. Your doctor will know what treatments will be most effective in restoring your injured neck.

If surgery is necessary, there are a number of procedures that may be prescribed depending upon the location of the herniation. Most surgeries involve removing the damaged disc and replacing it with an artificial one or a bone graft “spacer.” Naturally, these procedures carry some risk and expense.

Not all victims of cervical disc injury require surgery, however. Other protocols may include physical therapy or lifestyle changes, such as weight loss and exercise, to help strengthen and support the body.

Disc Injuries May Result in Larger Accident Settlements

The extent and severity of neck injuries can be difficult to prove. Because they are not always visible to the eye, medical records and detailed documentation will be especially important in these cases.

An experienced attorney who specializes in personal injury can help you collect necessary documents that will help maximize your compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

What Expenses Can I Receive Compensation For?

In Georgia, the law protects car accident victims who are injured through the negligence or recklessness of others.

You may be eligible for compensation from the at-fault party for the following:

  • Medical costs, including future expenses for treatments like physical therapy or ongoing pain management
  • Wages and income that were lost due to an inability to work because of the accident or your injuries. You can also be compensated for future loss of income if you will be unable to return to work or must make a career change.
  • Any expenses incurred while you are recovering.
  • Compensation for pain and suffering.
  • Changes in quality of life, for example, if you are a golf enthusiast, and the injury makes your hobby impossible, it may be compensable.

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