Spinal Cord Injuries After Auto Accidents

Back injuries can be one of the most terrifying consequences of a car accident. Besides the extreme pain, the fear of paralysis or other serious long-term effects make spinal cord injuries among the most dreaded of all. A broken leg will heal. Cuts and bruises fade, but damage to the spine means a lifetime of suffering. In Oregon, people who suffer spinal cord injuries in a car accident frequently seek the help of a  Portland personal injury attorney to steer them through the process of getting the compensation that will help fund the treatment and lifestyle changes these horrific injuries often require.

Not all spinal cord injuries result in paralysis, of course, and not all are caused by direct trauma to the spinal cord itself. Damage to the bones, tissues or blood vessels which surround the spinal cord can also lead to spinal cord damage. This is often the case in a car accident, when the head, neck or back are pulled, twisted sideways or compressed. In a violent collision, the body can be jerked and twisted in a fraction of a second, but the effects can last a lifetime.

What actually happens to the spinal cord when it’s damaged in an accident?

When the spinal cord has suffered trauma such as occurs in a car accident, bleeding, fluid accumulation and swelling can occur inside the cord or outside (but still within the spinal canal). This accumulated fluid builds pressure, and the spinal cord becomes compressed and damaged. Not wearing a safety restraint in any motor vehicle greatly increases the likelihood of spinal cord trauma for all age groups, but particularly among the elderly. This is because they are more likely to have weakened spines due to things like osteoporosis or a narrowing of the spinal canal due to natural aging processes.

How will I know if I’m just sore, or if my spinal cord has actually been damaged?

Spinal cord injuries typically cause weakness and a sense of numbness at the point of injury and below the area of damage. Obviously, the extent of the damage to the spinal cord will determine the severity of the symptoms, but if you experience pain in the spinal cord region, and numbness below that point, get medical help immediately. After that, seek the advice of a good Portland personal injury attorney.

When the damage to the spinal cord originates in the neck, or cervical, area, symptoms can affect arms and legs on either or both sides of the body and can include any or all of:

  • Difficulty breathing from paralysis caused to the muscles used when breathing. This frequently happens when the injury is high up on the neck.
  • Loss of normal bowel or bladder control, which can include constipation or incontinence
  • Numbness and other sensory changes
  • An increase in muscle tone known as spasticity
  • Pain, weakness and paralysis, depending on the severity of the damage
  • Blood pressure problems
  • Abnormal sweating
  • Difficulty maintaining normal body temperature

Seek medical attention immediately after your accident

If any one of the above symptoms happens to you after a car accident, it’s imperative that you seek immediate and urgent medical attention. Don’t panic. Some symptoms abate once the initial swelling goes down and the pressure on the spinal cord eases. Your health care provider will want to examine your back to find the exact location of the injury and may refer you to a neurological specialist.

Tests commonly ordered in the cases of spinal cord trauma include a CT scan, which will reveal the extent of the damage and also turn up other potential dangers such as blood clots. Spine x-rays will determine if any of the bones in your back have been fractured. In very rare cases, a Myelogram may be necessary. This is an x-ray that has been taken after dye has been injected into the spinal cord.

Aren’t spinal cord injuries permanent? Can they be treated?

Again, the imperative is seeking immediate emergency treatment. This gives the best opportunity to reduce the severity of long-term effects. Time is of the essence, however, so don’t delay. Corticosteroids are commonly used to reduce the swelling which causes so much of the damage to the spinal cord. The quicker the pressure on the spinal cord is reduced, the greater the chance to avoid permanent damage. In cases where damage to the spinal cord is caused by a blood clot or bone fragment, surgery may be required to reduce the chances of spinal nerves being completely destroyed, which can lead to paralysis. Surgeons may also be able to fuse broken spinal bones and put spinal braces in place.

After surgery, bed rest will most likely be needed to allow the bones in the spine, which bear most of the body’s weight, to heal. In severe and dangerous cases, traction may be recommended, to keep the spine from moving. Traction may be required for very long periods to prevent further damage that can lead to permanent paralysis.

It’s clear that spinal cord damage can have severe and potentially disastrous effects, and the costs associated with treating spinal cord trauma are very high. However, not getting the medical treatment you need simply isn’t an option. If you’ve been injured in a car accident and have suffered a spinal cord injury, please seek medical assistance immediately. Then go directly to a Portland personal injury attorney who will help you deal with the insurance companies and get the compensation you not only need, but deserve.