Neck Injuries Are as Common as they Are Serious

Perhaps the most common auto injury is that of the cervical column. This is not surprising, since many car accidents involve extreme, violent force. Those in the struck car suffer the transference of force into the delicate region at the top of the spinal cord. This contains 7 bones or vertebrae, and they can sustain irreversible damage.

Approximately 1 million people every year suffer from pronounced neck injury as the result of being in the wrong place, wrong time while in a car. Of this number, about one-quarter of the victims suffering from cervical injury will be forced to endure chronic pain from the base of their brain to their shoulder blades.

In about 10 percent of all people injured in auto accidents, long-term disability will result. Nearly 15% of those who suffer from neck injury, continue to experience symptoms more than three years after the accident.

Many times, neck injuries resulting from wrecks are not long lasting. They may heal within two to four weeks without extensive medical intervention. For those with severe injury, their lives are extremely disrupted. They cannot work and carry on with their normal daily affairs. The pain, whether constant or intermittent, ruins their waking hours and keeps them from sleeping soundly. This, in turn, adversely affects their family members.

It is unfortunate that cervical injuries have been stigmatized as exaggerated or non-existent. Certainly some claimants have attempted to collect compensation that is not deserving. Additionally, medical science has not progressed to the point where these flexion-extension injuries can be reliably and precisely identified.

For those who suffer from serious neck pain, claims should be asserted with the assistance of their physician’s painstaking documentation and years of medical experience. How well the orthopedist documents their patient’s complaints and treatment plan can determine that doctor’s credibility in court.

Dynamics of the Neck Injury

These injuries occur when a person’s neck is suddenly and violently jolted into an unnatural direction. The angle of force hitting the neck, and the head’s position at the moment of impact, should be known. This enables determination of the type and severity of the break. The pain may not be immediate. In fact, it is common for symptoms to begin minutes or hours after the accident. And because this variety of soft tissue injury assumes a number of symptoms, it can be hard to easily diagnose.

After the immediate trauma of the car wreck, many people begin to feel growing discomfort, which then turns into real pain. By the time they are in the life squad vehicle or at the emergency room, they are coping with the pain and distress of their new injury.

Most patients experience some form of pain the neck, back and shoulders. Often this is accompanied by radiating headache. Dizziness is often a part of the unsettling experience. MRIs and X-rays do not usually help in identifying cervical injuries of this type.

If spinal compression has been caused, the symptoms can be alarming. There may be difficulty walking, or lack of ability to move the arms and legs in a natural manner. Because the fine motor skills have been compromised, there may be radiating sensation that could be described as tingling or electrical.

Neck Pain Diagnostic Testing

The spine specialist will need to perform a number of tests before developing a treatment plan. The office evaluation will include a series of questions, in conjunction with observation of range of cervical motion and overall posture. The spinal column will be palpated and any misalignment or curvature will be noted. Any abnormalities associated with muscle spasms can offer important clues as to the scope of damage.
It is to be expected that x-rays will be ordered. These can discern the presence of narrowing disc spaces, a condition known as spinal stenosis. If there are any fractures or bone spurs, or any underlying osteoarthritis, this will become important to the diagnostic impression.

Various other testing is often required. This could include a CT scan (also known as a CAT, short for Computerized Axial Tomography).  If there is any suspicion of a herniated or bulging disc, this must be evaluated.

If the doctor believes there may be spinal problems such as fracture, infection or osteoarthritis, then a bone scan can be expected. These are often regarded with apprehension. The amount of radioactive material which is injected into a blood vessel is minor. As it travels through the blood it will be absorbed by the bones. As is true with general inflammation, radioactive material can be expected to be absorbed when in damaged areas. The “hot spots” are detected by the scanner, because there will be an accumulation of the radioactive substance.

The discogram helps to determine whether the presence of disc dysfunction. A disc is injected with a dye, which then leaves an identifiable trace. This contributes to better understanding the specific problems associated with the disc.

Coping with Herniated Discs

The 26 vertebrae are a series of connected bones that protect the spinal cord. They surround the spine, and signal pain when damage occurs, by way of an elaborate circuitry of nerves. The brain monitors all of this data, and instructs the muscular skeletal system as to operating instructions.

When a disc is herniated (bulging), it pinches one of the nerve roots.

Since discs hold the vertebrae together, they must act to cushion from outside forces. In turn, the vertebrae connect to each other by these discs, as well as by double-sided joints known as facets. The spine’s vertebrae are able to twist, rotate and even bend from side to side. This is allowed by the facet joints working together with the discs.
Each disc is made up of resilient connective tissues. The outer surface of each disc is comprised of annulus fibrosus, which is vital to the security of each disc. Damage to the disc can result in herniation or disc rupture. This violent re-distribution is significantly painful. A violent twisting from an accident causes the outer annulus fibrosus to tear. Then the nucleus pulposus shifts out of its position and causes severe pressure on the nerves of the spine.

Much litigation results because of the necessity of proving the nature and degree of disc herniation. A clinical examination will focus on whether there is abnormal sensation or inconsistent reflexes. Often the physician will order a CT scan or MRI to supplement the ER x-rays. If any radiating pain or numbness is present, there may also be ordered electgromyograms, discograms and even bone scans.