Motor Vehicle Injuries

What are the Most Common Motor Vehicle Injuries?

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Abrasions and broken bones are typically the most common motor vehicle injuries. In addition to those injuries, when a car accident occurs the car suddenly stops while your body continues to move forward. Your seatbelt keeps your body fairly stationary, but this can result in your internal structures and organs becoming injured. Seatbelts undoubtedly save lives, but this force can cause serious injury all the way up and down your spine.

 

Whiplash

Whiplash is one of the most common motor vehicle injuries that can occur even at low speeds. The majority of car accidents are rear-impact collisions that occur at speeds of 14 mph or less with whiplash causing damage to the neck at speeds as low as 2.5 mph.

The significant stress of the jerking, stopping motion at the end of an accident can cause injury to the bones and soft tissues in the neck. Tendons are also strained as the neck hyperextends beyond its normal range of motion.

Whiplash can show up as stiffness or soreness in the neck that can gradually worsen if left untreated. Many people in car accidents don’t realize they are injured until they wake up with a stiff neck the next morning or even in the days following the accident. An estimated 15% to 40% of patients who have untreated acute neck pain will eventually develop chronic neck pain.

Sciatica

Sciatica occurs when damage or trauma impacts the sciatic nerve which is the largest and longest nerve in your body. It is formed by several branches from the lumbar spine and courses down the buttocks, past the hips and back of the leg to the feet.

In a car accident injury, sciatica can be caused when the sciatic nerve is compressed or otherwise injured. This can cause pain, tingling and/or numbness in the buttocks all the way down the leg into the feet. Sciatica can be debilitating if left untreated.

In severe cases, sciatica can also cause urinary incontinence and loss of bowel control. Any sign of this loss of control, groin numbness, or any weakness or loss of movement in the lower limbs, is a sign of a true medical emergency. Get immediate medical attention.

Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain can involve the soft tissues and muscles of the back. These muscles can experience bruising and trauma during a car accident. The vertebrae of the lumbar spine can move or sustain fractures resulting in lower back pain.

Chronic lower back pain is the most common type of back pain. It can result in years of lost wages and lost time with friends and family. For patients who already experience intermittent back pain, a car accident may also worsen their condition.

Mid and Upper Back Pain

Severe back pain can occur in the area of the thoracic spine which is where your ribs connect to the spine. Any injury to the organs or ribs can also cause mid and upper back pain. Pain in this area due to car accident injuries can have lasting effects on a patient’s ability to function in their daily lives as the thoracic spine is typically very stiff in order to provide the structure and stability to protect vital internal organs.

Treatments

Following a car accident you should see your doctor to ensure you have not experienced any significant injuries.

Your pain doctor may recommend multiple treatments to help get you back to feeling like normal. These may include:

  • Resting the remaining day of the accident

  • Getting proper nutrition and returning to exercise and physical activity the following day

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain relievers (NSAIDs). These medications can help reduce the inflammation and pain from the trauma you experienced during the car accident.

  • Heat and cold therapy. Typically, cold therapy (e.g., ice packs) reduce swelling and inflammation, and heat therapy (i.e., heating pads and topical warming gels) soothe tight and sore muscles. Follow your doctor’s recommendations as to which to use first.

  • Acupuncture and chiropractic therapy.

Interventional Treatments

If you continue to have pain despite the conservative treatments above, your doctor may recommend interventional procedures. These may include:

  • Medial branch blocks. These may help determine the cause of your pain in either your neck, upper, mid or lower back. If you experience significant pain relief from these test blocks, radiofrequency ablation of these nerves can provide an estimated 10-12 months of relief, and be repeated as needed.

  • Epidural steroid injections. For pain the shoots down an arm or leg caused by a disc herniation after a car accident can be treated with epidural injections in the affected area of the spine.

  • Spinal cord stimulation. Patients who have exhausted all conservative therapy and continue to have pain in either the back or limbs, spinal cord stimulation can be an option for patients who aren’t candidates for or who decline surgery.

  • Intrathecal drug delivery systems. Chronic spinal fractures can be very painful and difficult to treat. For patients whom other treatments have not provided any meaningful pain relief, intrathecal drug delivery systems (pain pumps) can be very beneficial.

Additional Resources

www.MayoClinic.org