5 Common Spine Injuries After a Car Accident


The crash force of a car accident causes tremendous trauma to the body. In an accident at only 30 mph, a 100-pound person becomes a 3,000-pound force still in forward motion inside a vehicle as the car comes to a sudden stop on impact. One of the most vulnerable body parts during a crash is the torso, including the back, which sustains a powerful force against a seatbelt as the body is thrust forward in a collision. 

5 common back injuries following a car accident

Back and spinal cord injuries are common after a car accident. Some injuries cause temporary pain and stiffness that resolves in a few weeks, but others cause more serious trauma with injuries to the muscles, vertebrae, and discs supporting the spine and protecting the spinal cord. The most serious back injuries are those that cause trauma to the delicate nerves of the spinal cord which are responsible for sending messages from the brain to the body parts below. Five types of spine injuries are among the most serious back injuries after a car accident.

1. Spinal Fractures Without Spinal Cord Injuries

Fractures of the vertebrae in the back are common in car accidents. Fortunately, the majority of spinal fractures do not injure or sever the spinal cord. Broken spinal vertebrae cause pain and stiffness in the back and neck, tingling and numbness in the extremities, muscle spasms, weakness in the limbs, and sometimes temporary loss of bladder and/or bowel control. Treatment involves stabilizing the spine, rest, healing time, and sometimes physical therapy. More complicated fractures may require surgery.

2. Sacral Spinal Cord Injuries After a Car Accident

The sacral region of the spine (sacrum) is below the lumbar spine and just above the tail tailbone. Injuries to this region of the spinal cord affect the hips, groin, buttocks, and the backside of the upper thigh area. An injury in this area affects the bladder, bowels, and sexual function, but injury victims are usually able to maintain independence and walk with some degree of support with leg braces or a cane.

3. Lumbar Spinal Cord Injuries After Car Accidents

Injuries to the lumbar region of the spine are common in car accidents, affecting vertebrae L1-L5 in the lowest portion of the back. Damage to the spinal cord in this area impacts motions like bending the knees, extending the toes, bending the foot upward, and bending the hips. Depending on the severity of the injury and the vertebrae level at which the injury occurs, the victim may be able to walk with braces and support or may require a wheelchair. Bladder and bowel control is also affected by lumbar spinal cord injuries.

4. Thoracic Spine Injuries From Car Accidents

The thoracic region of the spine is in the middle and upper portions of the back between vertebrae T1-T12. When damage occurs to the spinal cord in this region, the impacts on the body below the level of the injury are significant. Victims typically retain arm and hand movement but experience paraplegia or loss of function in the lower body and legs. Depending on the level of the injury and the severity of the damage, injury victims may retain normal upper body movement and independent living with the help of a wheelchair and adaptive equipment.

5. Cervical Spinal Cord Injuries After Car Accidents

The cervical spine is the top portion of the spine in the upper back and neck. Because it’s closest to the brain stem, damage to this region of the spinal cord has the most severe impact on the victim’s body movement and quality of life. Severe injuries or a severing of the spinal cord at this level prevent the brain from sending messages below the level of the injury, resulting in absent or limited feeling or movement below the neck. Known as quadriplegia or tetraplegia, this severe injury leaves victims dependent on full-time care and medical equipment, including breathing assistance. They may be prone to respiratory infections and other health complications as a result of the injury.

Back injuries and spinal cord damage cause temporary or permanent disability depending on the location and severity of the injury. If you have suffered a back injury as a result from a car accident, contact a St. Louis spinal cord injury attorney to discover your recovery options.