The spine is one of the most commonly injured body parts in a car accident. The range of severity of injury varies widely from minor strains to major life-threatening injuries and even death. The severity mostly depends on the type of car accident, the severity of impact, the patient’s position in the car, and whether they were wearing a seat belt.
After a car accident where you suspect there might be a spine injury, it is important to stay calm. The injured party should avoid moving to much so as to prevent further damage. Wait for help. Once the ambulance arrives, the paramedics will immobilize the spine and transfer you to the hospital. It is much safer to get a proper examination and diagnostics in the hospital.
If you have been involved in an auto accident that has caused injuries to your spine, a personal injury attorney can help you understand the accident law that applies to your case. They will help you process your claims and document your injuries, whether the symptoms appear immediately, days, or even weeks later.
The physical examination can detect issues such as pain at the site of injury, possible loss of strength of different muscles, inability to move some body parts, numbness, tingling, and loss of sensation. These symptoms usually indicate possible spine injury as well as the location of the injury.
Now, it is important to detect the exact type of injury and its exact location so that the proper treatment method is chosen. X-rays can only show the bones of the spine, which means they can only reveal major spinal fractures and dislocations. CT scans are a more efficient method of visualizing the spine and spinal injuries. CT scans can show the bones in much more detail. They can reveal the type of fracture, the size and location of the bone fragments, and their position related to the spinal cord and spinal nerves. In most cases, CT scans are enough to determine whether surgery is the proper treatment method. An MRI is another diagnostic method that can show the spine in high detail. It is mostly used to detect the injury of soft tissues, such as the spinal cord. EMG can be used to detect the possible injury of spinal nerves and their roots. (1)
Once the diagnosis has been established, the doctor will determine the right course of action. In most cases, neurosurgeons focuses on spine surgery or orthopedic surgeons will be the ones to make the call. Nonsurgical treatment is reserved for patients with minor spinal injuries such as strains. But even some spine fractures don’t require surgery. A few months of wearing a brace will do the trick.
Even mild cases can turn severe in a matter of hours, unfortunately leading to situations where hiring a wrongful death lawyer — rather than a lawyer for spine injuries or personal injuries — becomes necessary.
So, how do surgeons determine when to treat the patient surgically and which is the right type of surgery? Basically, surgery will be performed in any case when there is an unstable fracture of the spine when bone fragments move into the spinal canal and press on the spinal cord or nerve roots. The same goes in the case of a spinal disc herniation. Another cause of the surgery can be prolonged pain. So, if you had a car accident that caused spine injury but the pain didn’t resolve over a period of 12 weeks, then you will probably need surgery to remove the cause of the pain.
Discectomy and Microdiscectomy
Discectomy is one of the most commonly performed spinal surgeries. The goal of discectomy is to remove the spinal disc that has moved out of its normal spot and now applies pressure on the spinal cord or spinal nerves. The surgeon will make an incision in your back or neck and carefully approach the disc. They will then remove the part of the disc that causes symptoms.
Microdiscectomy is essentially the same procedure. The only difference is that a microdiscectomy is performed using microscopes that enlarge the area so a smaller incision can be made. (2)
Spinal laminectomy/spinal decompression
A car accident can be the cause of a herniation of the spinal disc or it can cause stenosis of the spinal canal. This stenosis can be the cause of severe symptoms, and in most cases, severe spinal stenosis requires surgery. The goal of surgery is to remove part of the spine so that the pressure inside the spinal canal is reduced. A spinal laminectomy is frequently performed to treat spinal stenosis. The surgeon will approach the spine through a small incision and remove a small part of the vertebrae. A combination of laminectomy and discectomy, wherein the surgeon also removes a herniated disc, is not uncommon. (3)
Foraminotomy is another procedure that involves removing part of the vertebrae. Normally, there are small holes between two vertebrae from which nerves exit the spinal canal and spread through the body. Sometimes, these holes get narrowed by bone and pressure on the nerves, causing painful symptoms. This narrowing can be caused by trauma, including car accidents. The surgeon will have to remove parts of the bone and make these holes larger to eliminate the pressure on the nerves. (3)
The goal of a spinal fusion is to create a connection between two or more vertebrae so that there are no movements between them. This is usually done if the spine is unstable. One of the most common causes of spinal fusion is spinal fractures, which usually result from a major trauma such as a car accident. Fractures cause spines to become unstable, resulting in pain and complications like pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots as well as a risk of the upper spine leaning forwards. To correct these issues, surgeons perform a spinal fusion. The surgeon will make an incision to remove the spinal disc between vertebrae and fill the gap using a bone graft to promote the creation of new bone. After that, they will place screws inside the bones and link them with a rod. A spinal fusion is a major surgery that requires a long period of rehabilitation. (2)
Vertebroplasty is another surgery that can be used to treat fractures which often result from car accidents. It is used to treat compression fractures that usually occur in patients with osteoporosis. In the case of a vertebroplasty, the surgeon will insert an instrument into the fracture site that will deliver a balloon and fill it with cement to strengthen the vertebra. (2)
In conclusion, spinal surgeries can be performed to treat injuries caused by car accidents. In most cases, they are performed to treat fractures of the spine or disc herniation.
These symptoms can greatly affect your quality of life. Both timely contact with medical professionals and an auto accidents lawyer that spends a considerable amount of time in personal injury law can reduce your physical and financial burden.
It can be complicated to navigate the legal and medical systems on your own — but you don’t have to.
An attorney for personal injury can advise you on your rights within the Commonwealth of Virginia and help you get the compensation you deserve, particularly if you experience severe symptoms and major spine trauma.