Neck Injuries from Car Accident: Injuries & Claims in Detail

by | Mar 15, 2024 | Personal Injury

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Do you experience persistent neck pain, restricted neck mobility, and weakness in the arms? Involved in any kind of traumatic car accident? If “yes” is the answer to all these questions, the possibility of neck injuries from car accident cannot be overlooked. Here, we delve deep into the causes, symptoms, and treatment of neck injuries and the factors affecting neck injury claims.

Anatomy of Cervical Spine

Our neck consists of seven cervical bones stacked on one another with rubbery discs in between to provide flexible movement. The cervical spine is on the superior part of our vertebral column connecting the cranial bones and the thoracic spine.

The top two cervical vertebrae differ in size and function from the rest of the cervical spine. C1, known as the atlas, does not have a vertebral body and the center of it is like a ring. This helps the head in forward and backward range of motion. C2, known as the axis, has a protruding bony structure that fits into the atlas’s ring. The cervical vertebrae along with the ligaments, muscles, and tendons support the neck and give flexibility.

Permanent neck injuries from car accident is more catastrophic as more damage can be caused to the central nervous system that may lead to paralysis/ quadriplegia. If you suspect any fracture in the neck after an accident, don’t move and get assistance.

Mechanism & Causes of Neck Injuries

More males (79%) and old people, as well as youngsters of the 15 – 30 age group, suffer cervical injuries often. Trauma of any kind can be the prominent cause of neck injuries. Motor accidents such as motorcycle accidents, car accidents, truck accidents, and slip and fall, and sports-related accidents can produce penetrative or blunt traumas to the neck. Other reasons may be degenerative like arthritis, osteoporosis, and disc herniation in the spinal cord.

According to the update in 2023 by the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC), approximately 18,000 spinal cord injuries are recorded every year. This is apart from the people who die at the scene of the accident of neck injuries. Approximately more than 300,000 people live with spinal cord injuries in the United States. Around 60 to 75% of these injuries occur to the neck.

Incomplete tetraplegia (47.1%) is the most common outcome of spinal cord injuries. The incomplete and complete paraplegia shares the same frequency. Vehicle crashes (37.6%) are the most leading cause of neck injuries.

Neck Injuries from Car Accidents   

Our neck is the most vulnerable part of our body in motor accidents. Auto accidents becomes a prominent reason for cervical spine injuries in America. Neck injury from rear end car accident is the worst type of impact that affects the cervical spine. Sudden jerks can damage the ligaments, muscles, tendons, joints, or nerves in the cervical spine. Strong impacts can even end up in neck fractures. Some neck injuries may not produce symptoms for hours or days. Neck Injuries from car accident should not be overlooked. Negligence can lead to catastrophic aftermaths in such situations.

Types of Neck Injuries

The most common neck injuries from car accidents can be seen below.

  • Whiplash: When the neck jerks with force during the impact, the whiplash injury can occur. During the rear-end crashes, the neck undergoes a violent movement and can injure the ligament, muscle, tendon, or joints.
  • Lacerations: Cuts and wounds made by the sharp metals, or objects can damage the ligaments, muscles, or tendons.
  • Soft tissue injuries: Sprain or strain of the muscles or tendons can create spasms and pain. It also can reduce the range of motion.
  • Facet joint injuries: Car accidents can damage the facet joints and result in inflammation and irritation of the facet joints.
  • Disc herniations: Violent impacts can slip the spinal discs from their position, and the herniated discs cause nerve compressions and impingement.
  • Neck fractures: Fracture is the most dangerous injury to our neck. With the uncontrollable pain, one can suspect the fracture. No kind of movement should be administered to prevent further damage.

Neck Injury Car Accident Symptoms

  • Neck pain
  • Radiating pain to the upper extremities
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Speech impairment
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Inability to control bladder or bowel
  • Paralysis in the arms, torso, and legs (Tetraplegia or quadriplegia)
  • Limited range of motion in the arms
  • Decrease in diaphragm function

Methods to Diagnose Neck Injuries

X-ray is the primary diagnostic study to find out any kind of cervical injuries. Sometimes, this traditional radiography could not provide a clear picture of craniocervical and cervicothoracic joints and may miss out on possible injuries. In such circumstances, CT scans prove to be effective in giving good visuals. To detect suspected cervical spine infections, delineating disc herniations, and deciphering bone erosions, CT scans play an indispensable role.

Electromyography is a diagnostic test, which records the electrical activity during the nerve stimulation in the muscle. EMG may create some discomfort as small needles are inserted into the muscle. Nerve Conduction Study, which is most often done along with the EMG, helps in measuring the electrical impulse of the nerve. It helps in identifying nerve damages in the cervical spine.

Electromyography is a diagnostic test, which records the electrical activity during the nerve stimulation in the muscle. EMG may create some discomfort as small needles are inserted into the muscle. Nerve Conduction Study, which is most often done along with the EMG, helps in measuring the electrical impulse of the nerve. It helps in identifying nerve damages in the cervical spine.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines use magnetic and radio waves to record the clear images of the area scanned. It helps the physicians

  • In evaluating the cervical spine anatomy,
  • Identify the problems in the soft tissues inside the spinal cord, nerves, and discs
  • To detect tumors, and inflammations in the spine or tissues around the spine
  • To decide the procedure for the surgery
  • To monitor the post-surgery changes in the cervical spine

Since the neck MRI gives precise images to collect scrupulous details about cervical spine problems, it becomes a crucial method to find the injuries.

Effective Neck Injury Treatment

If you have neck pain after car accident treatment should be sought immediately. Non-surgical therapies including physical therapies and chiropractic care are the first approach in treating non-traumatic neck pains. Even cervical spine disc herniation can be cured by effective and conservative treatments. Proper rest without involving in strenuous activities, muscle relaxants, and anti-inflammatories can do wonders and reduce the possibilities for surgery for neck injuries from car accident. Epidural steroid injections are advocated to give relief to a particular period of time.

Neck Surgery Types and Complications

When the conservative therapies fail to produce results for cervical spinal cord injury, the next option is surgery. Let us take a look at the various cervical surgeries and the complications.

  1. Cervical Spinal Fusion

To treat the instability of the neck, spinal stenosis, disc herniation, spinal cord misalignment, and arthritis, cervical spine fusion is advocated. This surgery is done in different methods. Bone taken from any other part of the body or the bone bank is used to join the weak vertebra with the adjacent one. This bone graft stimulates the growth of the new bone.

In some cases, metal braces are screwed into the bone to join two adjacent vertebrae. The damaged vertebra can be removed and the vertebrae above and below the affected one can be fused.

Complications: depending on your age and health conditions, different risks can be found. Pain in the area from where the bone graft is taken, spinal cord injury, bone graft rejection by the body, infection in the affected area or the donor site, breakage of the metal implants.

  1. Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF)

ACDF or anterior cervical decompression involves removing the affected disc to relieve the pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots and mitigate the pain and weakness. This surgery has two parts: discectomy and fusion. In a discectomy, the surgery can be done from the anterior or front of the neck. The damaged disc compressing the nerves will be removed. To stabilize the cervical spine, fusion surgery will be done. To treat disc herniations and nerves compressions, ACDF is effective.

Complications: bleeding, infection, damage to the esophagus and trachea due to infection, damage to the nerves or vertebral artery during the surgery.

  1. Anterior Cervical Corpectomy and Fusion (ACCF)

When the degeneration of the cervical spine extends to more areas, discectomy cannot be advocated. The doctors had to mandate an extensive procedure like the corpectomy to treat the multi-level degeneration, removal of bone spurs (osteophytes), vertebrae, and discs. Like discectomy, corpectomy is also advocated to decompress the nerves or spinal cord. After the removal of the discs, fusion is done using bone grafts or metal plates to stabilize the cervical spine.

Complications: hemorrhage, infection, nerve root damage, damage to the esophagus and trachea, spinal cord damage, graft misalignment, prolonged pain.

  1. Laminoplasty and Laminectomy

Laminoplasty is an alternative to laminectomy to treat cervical myelopathy. In a laminectomy, part of the lamina or bony roof is removed to decompress the nerves, whereas laminoplasty decompresses the spinal cord by reshaping the vertebral lamina. Laminectomy may cause instability while removing the laminae completely. The cervical spine may tilt forward to cause issues in the future. In laminoplasty, a hinge is created on one part of the lamina, and on the other side, a part of the lamina is wedged and connected to the hinge. The cervical brace is given for support.

For patients with cervical stenosis, cervical spondylotic myelopathy, and ossification of the posterior longitudinal ligament, laminoplasty is effective.

Complications:  cerebrospinal fluid leak, vertebral infection, laminoplasty closure, nerve damage.

  1. Artificial Disk Replacement (ADR)

Disc replacement is a new step forward in cervical spine surgery and also the safest procedure compared to the others. In an ADR, the damaged disc will be replaced with an artificial or prosthetic disc. The success rates are more, and the fastest recovery can be assured. For people with disc herniations and degenerative issues, ADR cannot be administered.

Complications: allergic to the implant, breakage to the implant, infection, nerve or spinal cord injury, damage to the vocal cord, spinal fluid leak.

  1. Posterior cervical Laminoforaminotomy

This is a minimally invasive surgery, where the incision is made from the back of the neck. A tubular retractor is inserted, and a part of the bone is removed to have clear and easy access to the affected area. With the help of an endoscope, the protruding disc or the disc material compressing the spinal nerves will be removed. The compressed spinal nerves are relieved by minimal bone removal.

Complications: infection, dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing), nerve root injury, hemorrhage, dural tear, revision surgery.


Aftermath of Neck Injury

Spinal cord injuries can rewrite your future. Cervical spine injuries are the most pernicious of all spinal cord injuries. Since the spinal cord is connected to the brain, the injury to the cervical spine can affect the central nervous system and result in autonomic dysfunction. Autonomic dysfunction includes problems related to respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, urinary, and sexual activities.

More severe neck injuries can cause weakness in all four limbs resulting in quadriplegia. Maintaining the health of a paralyzed patient needs arduous efforts and is not easy. Sores, spasms, chronic pain, and urinary tract infections cannot be avoided. Long-term medical assistance is indispensable.

Even after surgery, aggressive physical therapies are needed to recover from the injury. Most of the injuries improve within a year. The symptoms, which continue beyond that will be permanent.

Most of the patients return to their integration with society and be productive. Due to the limitations, some may end up in divorce and depression. The expensive cervical spine surgeries and extensive medical care needed in the future may create financial burdens.

Neck Injuries from Car Accident and Claims

If you plan to proceed with your neck injury claims to meet the extensive medical expenses, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer. He will guide you in every step to build your claim effectively. He collects all the essential evidence, medical records, statements of witnesses, police report, expert accident analyses, etc., to help you claim the deserved recompense.

You can claim for your economic as well as emotional damages under personal injury claims. The economic damages include

  • Present medical expenses
  • Loss of wages
  • Future loss of earning capacity
  • Property damage
  • Expense for future medical care

The non-economic damages include

  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental agony
  • Loss of enjoyment
  • Loss of consortium
  • Disability or paralysis

The economic damages can be evaluated based on your medical bills and other medical records. However, assessing your emotional damages need expertise. Only your well-qualified lawyer can understand and analyze your case and estimate your damages effortlessly.

Depending on the severity of your neck injuries and the ongoing treatment needed for that, your neck injury in car accident settlements will also vary. Even a few million can be availed for catastrophic cervical injuries.

Factors Affecting Neck Pain after Car Accident Settlement

  • Severity of neck injury: Depending on the severity of neck injury, types of treatments undergone, medical equipment needed, surgeries and length of long-term care, the reparation also will vary. Neck pain from minor car accident may result in lesser compensation, while more severe injuries may bring millions in restitution.
  • Pre-existing conditions: Though the neck injury is the result of the car accident, pre-existing neck conditions, which make the individual more susceptible for injuries can have great impact in the neck injury auto accident settlements.
  • Loss of income or earning capacity: Neck injuries can have great impact in one’s life. Severe injuries can affect the mobility and capacity to return to normal work life. This may lead to more days off from work or lose of job. Paralysis or permanent disabilities can impact the victim’s future earning capacity.
  • Degree of pain and suffering: Emotional and physical trauma experienced by the victim after the accident and its severity can influence the settlement.
  • Liability: The victim’s liability or degree of negligence in contributing to the accident can affect the reward. It also depends on the state’s negligence law (comparative or contributory), the victim may get more or less money in neck pain after car accident settlement.

To wind up,

Neck pain after an accident should not be taken light-heartedly. Mild neck spine injuries can be cured with proper conservative care. The delay in acquiring medical care can intensify your injuries and end in drastic irreparable damages. The more acute the injuries, the more arduous to cure them. The delay in getting treatment and the delay in filing your neck injuries from car accident claim can make your litigation more complicated. Therefore, treat on time and claim on time. Conservative care, cervical surgeries, a compassionate approach from the family, and neck injury from car accident settlement can aid you in recuperating.

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