How Can Nerve Impingement Be Caused By A Car Wreck?

Disclaimer: The following neither contains medical or legal advice but is for Informational Purposes Only. Consult a medical professional or attorney for your unique situation.

Nerve impingement is sometimes referred to as nerve compression or “pinched” nerve because it describes the cause of impingement. In a case of impingement, the nerve is compressed somewhere along its root from the spinal cord to the nerve’s end. Any tissue near the nerve can cause increased pressure, as can bones, muscles, tendons, etc. 1,2

The most common places for nerve impingement are narrow passages surrounded by bones, tendons, and ligaments. If this space or passage reduces in size, the nerve will suffer constant pressure which can cause damage. This is usually temporary. However, if the pressure remains for a longer period of time, it can cause permanent nerve damage.3

Car Accidents and Nerve Impingement

Car accidents can result in injury to nerves or injury to the surrounding tissues, which may cause them to swell and induce compression on surrounding nerves.  In most cases, nerves can be injured through stretching or suffering a direct blow. Lacerations are another cause of nerve injury in car accidents.1

Whiplash is also a very common injury as a result of car accidents. This condition is caused by movements within the cervical spine which are outside the normal range of motion. This excessive movement can cause stretching of cervical nerve roots and consequent radicular symptoms. Also, fractures of the cervical spine that occur in car accidents can cause movement of the bone fragments. Their contact with nerves may result in symptoms of nerve impingement.

Another commonly injured region suffered by those in car accidents is the lower back. It can be injured by a direct blow to the lower back or by stretching of the lumbar spine. There is a further chance that car accidents can cause disc herniation which can also affect the nerve by pinching it.

Symptoms of Nerve Impingement

Symptoms of nerve impingement will depend on the injured nerve. Generally speaking, the individual will complain about pain which can be spreading (radiating) down the limb or into other body regions. This pain is in most cases sharp like a stabbing, but it can also be like a burning sensation or aching. Tingling and numbness in areas impacted by this nerve is also a common symptom if the part of nerve determined for sensitivity is injured. On the other hand, if the motor part of the nerve is injured, the person may feel the muscles in a certain area are weaker than the opposite side.2

Diagnosis of Nerve Impingement

Diagnosis of nerve impingement is provided after a detailed history and physical examination is conducted. The symptoms and signs of nerve impingement will lead the examiner to the point of compression. Nerve conduction tests and EMG can be used to determine whether there is a nerve injury and which nerve is injured. Ultrasound and especially MRI are great diagnostic tools to reveal the site of nerve impingement.1

Most Common Nerve Impingement Syndromes

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by compression of a nerve called the median nerve in the wrist area. It is a common nerve compression syndrome, causing pain, numbness, and tingling in the fingers. In the case of car accidents, a blow to the wrist firmly holding the steering wheel or extreme motion of the wrist can cause injury to the soft tissues such as tendons. The median nerve passes through the carpal tunnel together with tendons, so any swelling of tendons will reduce the space for the median nerve and cause nerve impingement in the tunnel.1

Cubital tunnel syndrome

A similar process can happen in the elbow joint if it suffers an injury. The ulnar nerve is located under the skin on the inner side of the elbow and it can be easily injured. If it is compressed it will cause symptoms located on the inner side of the forearm and little finger.1

Cervical and Lumbar Radiculopathy

Cervical and lumbar radiculopathy can be caused by nerve impingement located in the neck or lower back. Spinal nerves emerge from the spinal cord and they pass through small openings between vertebrae and then go between different muscles down the limbs. Those small openings between vertebrae can be reduced by degenerative changes and so reduce the space for nerves to pass. In the case of car accidents, if the spine is hyperflexed or hyperextended, then it can cause stretching of the nerve root, or it can cause contact between nerves and bone spurs, resulting in impingement. Another cause of cervical or lumbar radiculopathy is disc herniation. This can occur in the case of a car accident. If the nerve root is impinged between the herniated disc and surrounding bone, it will cause symptoms like pain located in the neck or lower back, spreading down the arm or leg, as well as numbness or tingling located in the same area.3

Treatment of Nerve Impingement

Treatment of nerve impingement is versatile, and it can be conservative or surgical. The choice of treatment method will depend on the cause of impingement and its location. In most cases, in the early period after impingement, the person will be ordered to rest the affected body part or undergo full rest in case of spinal nerve impingement.  If the impingement is cause by repetitive movements of a certain body part, then lifestyle changes might show improvement of symptoms.  Physical therapy can improve pain, increase strength of the surrounding muscles and tendons, increase elasticity of soft tissues, and reduce swelling which causes pressure on the nerve and consequent symptoms of nerve impingement. Medicines such as NSAIDs and corticosteroids are frequently used in treatment of nerve injuries.1,2

Surgery can be an option for treatment of persistent nerve impingement. If some part of the bone, cartilage, tendon, or other firm anatomical structure is the cause of impingement, it can be treated surgically.1

  1. “Nerve Compression Syndrome: Causes, Treatment, And More.” Healthline. N. p., 2019. Web. 1 Dec. 2019.
  2. “Pinched Nerve – Symptoms And Causes.” Mayo Clinic. N. p., 2019. Web. 1 Dec. 2019.
  3. Cold, Flu & Cough et al. “Pinched Nerve (Compressed Nerve): Symptoms And Treatment.” WebMD. N. p., 2019. Web. 1 Dec. 2019.