Neck and Spinal Cord Injuries
Written by Andrew Sarski on July 30, 2013
Neck and spinal cord injuries are some of the most devastating traumatic injuries, often accompanied by chronic pain, numbness or weakness, and possibly even paralysis in the case of a serious spinal cord injury. In addition to causing physical pain, neck and spinal cord injuries often result in a decreased quality of life and significant financial difficulties, as treatment for these types of injuries may continue for months or even years. For those patients who suffer partial or complete paralysis after sustaining a neck or spinal cord injury, the consequences can be lifelong and catastrophic. Some of the most common causes of neck and spinal cord injuries are trauma, a motor vehicle accident, or a slip and fall accident. If you or a loved one has suffered from a serious neck or spinal cord injury caused by a car accident, trauma or a fall, contact a personal injury attorney to explore your compensation options.
Whiplash describes the set of symptoms associated with an injury in which the head is first severely hyperextended and then quickly thrown forward. Whiplash injuries are a common result of car accidents in which the victim is rear-ended, as well as sports injuries, trauma or falls. While whiplash and whiplash associated disorders (WAD) is not a medical diagnosis itself, it’s an event that may result in neck sprain or strain. Whiplash can also cause damage to discs or joints, which may in turn irritate nerve roots or possibly even the spinal cord. Depending on the injury, whiplash symptoms can include pain, stiffness, weakness or numbness down the arm, dizziness or disturbed sleep. Symptoms may be delayed a day or two following the injury, and treatment usually involves taking medication and wearing a neck brace.
A herniated disc occurs when when the soft substance on the inside of the disc, called the nucleus pulposis, is pushed out. If this substance lands on a nerve root, which it often does, the resulting symptoms will likely be pain and weakness or numbness down the arm. Tears in the tough outer fibers of the disc may lead to a herniation, often brought on by either repeated or a sudden, forceful stress to the joint. For example, lifting a heavy load with a twisted spine may cause the disc to herniate. Treatment for a herniated disc usually involves medication and physical therapy, and may proceed to surgery as needed.
Stingers and Burners
Stingers and burners are temporary injuries to the nerve root or brachial plexus, and are named for the way they feel. This type of injury occurs most often in football players, especially tacklers, and in other contact sport athletes. Stingers and burners may be caused by either an abrupt tilt of the head or when the head and shoulder are forced in opposite directions at the same time. Symptoms include stinging, burning, and numbness, weakness, or an electrical sensation down one arm. If a stinger or burner is severe or lasts more than a few minutes, you should seek the advice of a medical professional. If you are an athlete with stenosis, your risk is higher and you may be advised to retire from your sport to avoid a devastating neck injury.
Dislocation results when a neck bone moves out of its normal position, creating spinal instability. In cervical dislocation, either an injury or degenerative changes disrupt the ligaments that hold the vertebra in place, causing it to separate from the bone below. When caused by trauma, a dislocation may be accompanied by a neck fracture. In the most severe form of cervical dislocation, the bone is fully displaced forward (called jumping), and it becomes locked in this position, rupturing the ligaments completely. Less severe forms of dislocation occur when the bone does not move all the way out, or when only one side fully displaces. Serious dislocations may damage the spinal cord, sometimes requiring surgery, while mild cervical dislocations may go back into place on their own, requiring only a neck brace to treat the damaged soft tissue.
A neck fracture is a break in the cervical bone, typically caused by trauma, a fall, or degenerative changes in the spine. When caused by trauma or a fall, the type and severity of the break is usually determined by the angle of force hitting the neck and the head’s position at impact. Football players who block with their head are at high risk for neck fractures, as are elderly people with osteoporosis, since their bones are very fragile. The most serious neck fractures are typically accompanied by a cervical dislocation. Treatment for a neck fracture depends on a number of factors, including the patient’s age, the extent of damage to the spine, and any existing medical conditions. If a neck fracture destabilizes the patient’s neck, he or she may require use of a halo brace.
Spinal Cord Injury
A spinal cord injury results from a fracture, dislocation, or another neck injury that damages the spinal cord. If the spinal cord is damaged at the third cervical vertebra or above, the patient may die or require use of a respirator to live. People living with a spinal cord injury often struggle with lifelong disability, sometimes accompanied by complete or incomplete paralysis below the level of the injury. The timeliness of emergency care and the type of medical treatment administered to the patient immediately after the injury are particularly critical to survival and subsequent quality of life.