The problem with back injuries is that they can evolve into other problems. Vertebrae and discs can slip out of place and impinge on the spinal cord. Spinal cord injuries can cause nerve pain, muscle weakness, and even paralysis.
In this guide, we’ll provide some information about the causes and effects of a back injury and the compensation you can seek for it.
Table of Contents
How a Back Injury Happens
Back injuries usually result from back trauma. Some forms of trauma that can cause back injuries include:
Back injuries can happen when the spine hyperextends and then snaps back. The hyperextension can stretch or tear muscles, tendons, or ligaments in the back.
A whiplash injury results from hyperextension of the cervical spine in the upper back and neck.
The compression of the spine after hyperextension can also fracture vertebrae, compress discs, and pinch nerves in the spinal cord.
Blunt Force Trauma
Blunt force trauma happens when the back collides with an object or vice versa. Blunt force trauma can dislocate or fracture vertebrae. In severe cases, a fractured or dislocated vertebra cuts the spinal cord, resulting in paralysis.
Blunt force trauma can tear the ligaments that hold the ribs to the spine. This can produce a painful rib dislocation. Blunt forces can also crush the discs that sit between the vertebrae, resulting in a bulging or herniated disc.
Penetrating trauma occurs when an object penetrates the back. The worst case happens when the object penetrates the spinal canal and severs the spinal cord.
Even if the object does not penetrate the spinal canal, it can still tear soft tissue, fracture the vertebrae, and damage discs.
Types of Back Injuries
Back injuries can range in severity from muscle strains to quadriplegia.
Some back injuries that can result from trauma include:
Strains and Sprains
Strains occur when the back muscles or tendons that attach them to the spine and ribs get stretched or torn. Whiplash is a strain that happens in the neck when the head whips back and forth in a car accident.
Common symptoms of strains include:
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle spasms
- Limited range of motion
Sprains can happen when a ligament holding the bones of your back together gets stretched or torn. Sprains produce similar symptoms to strains, except sprains will often produce an unstable back and bruising.
In either case, treatment usually includes rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory drugs. Doctors do not usually operate to repair strains or sprains.
The human spine includes 33 vertebrae, though by the time people reach adulthood they have only 24 vertebrae as a result of fusion during normal growth and development. Most of these vertebrae include wing-shaped projections called processes jutting off of a circular body.
The vertebral body provides strength and stability. The processes provide anchor points for the tendons in the back. The body and processes surround the spinal canal where the spinal cord passes.
Trauma can fracture a vertebra. When the vertebral body fractures, your back might feel weak and unstable. When a process fractures, the vertebra can dislocate because the tendons and muscles cannot hold it in place.
Fractures can lead to spinal cord injuries. Bone fragments from the fracture can fall into the spinal canal, pressing and pinching nerves. The vertebra can also slip so far out of place that it severs or compresses the spinal cord.
Fractured vertebrae are usually treated with immobilization and rest. In cases where the vertebrae compress the spinal cord, doctors might operate to remove bone fragments or fuse the vertebrae in the correct positions.
Compressed discs can result from back trauma. The discs between the vertebrae are formed from a tough fibrous material surrounding a gel.
When trauma damages the discs, the fibrous material can compress, causing the disc to bulge into the spinal canal and compress the spinal cord.
Compression can also cause the gel material to protrude or herniate through the fibrous material into the spinal canal. In either case, the pressure on the spinal cord can cause severe pain.
In many cases, doctors will prescribe physical therapy to build up the muscles in the back to support the spine around the damaged disc. In severe cases, doctors can remove discs and fuse vertebrae together. They can also implant an artificial disc to replace your damaged disc.
Spinal Cord Injury
Spinal cord injuries happen when the spinal cord is compressed or severed. Spinal cord injuries can produce a range of symptoms, including:
- Numbness or tingling
- Loss of coordination
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
The symptoms will depend on the location and severity of the injury. A completely severed spinal cord will result in paralysis. If the break occurs in the neck, quadriplegia can result. If the break occurs in the back, paraplegia could result.
A partially severed spinal cord will cause paralysis, but some sensation and control might return as the brain remaps the surviving nerves.
A compressed spinal cord will usually cause chronic or recurring symptoms as the nerves get pinched and become inflamed.
If the compression occurs in the neck, symptoms may be felt in the fingers, hands, arms, shoulder, and chest. Compression in the back will affect the abdomen, hips, legs, feet, and toes.
Risk Factors for Back Injuries
Many accidents can result in back injuries, including:
Falls are a common reason for emergency room visits. Whether these falls happen at work or home, they can lead to broken vertebrae, damaged discs, and torn muscles.
Car accidents can cause your back to bend and twist unnaturally. These motions can lead to severe back injuries, even if you are wearing a seat belt during the collision.
Motorcycle, Bicycle, and Pedestrian Accidents
Motorcyclists, cyclists, and pedestrians do not have a passenger compartment to protect them. A typical collision includes at least two impacts that can injure the back — the initial impact with a vehicle and the ensuing impact with the ground.
Compensation for a Back Injury
After an accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you can seek compensation for your medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering.
Back injuries can justify substantial damages, particularly if they produce a chronic or recurring condition that requires ongoing treatment and therapy.