A traumatic back injury is a back injury caused by some outside force (trauma), such as a car accident.
(As used in this article, “back” means the low back, or lumbar, region of your spine. I have another article which deals with traumatic neck injuries.)
In this article, I will talk about common causes of traumatic back injuries, their usual symptoms and the most common types of traumatic back injuries.
Common Causes Of Traumatic Back Injury
These are some of the common causes of a traumatic back injury . . .
- auto accidents
- rear-end collisions
- motorcycle accidents
- truck accidents
- slip and fall accidents
- sports activities
- work-related accidents
Common Symptoms Of Traumatic Back Injury
These are the most common symptoms of a traumatic back injury . . .
- pain in your back.
- pain in your buttocks, hips, legs or feet.
- reduced range of motion in your back.
- numbness, weakness and slower reflexes in your legs.
- muscle spasms in your back.
When you report your symptoms to your doctor, s/he will diagnose your problem.
Let’s look at some of the possible injuries that you may have.
Common Types Of Traumatic Back Injury
To understand a traumatic back injury, you have to know something about the anatomy of your back.
The neck consists of the top 7 vertebrae (bones) of the spine which, in medical parlance are called the “cervical spine.” The bones of the cervical spine are identified by the letter “C” (as in cervical) and then the number of the bone, counting from the top. So, C3 is the third cervical vertebrae from the top.
Below the 7 cervical vertebrae, beginning at about the chest level, are 12 thoracic vertebrae. They are identified by the letter . . . that’s right “T” . . . and the number of the bone, counting from the top.
Moving down from the thoracic vertebrae to the end of the spine, their are 5 lumbar vertebrae (L1 through L5), then the sacrum (S-1) and then the coccyx.
If the bones of the spine were simply stacked on top of each other, your spine would be inflexible: You couldn’t bend over, twist or make other movements of your spine.
Flexibility exists because of spongy discs that are between each bone in the spine. The discs allow for movement and act like a shock absorber to cushion the bones of the spine as you twist, jump and move your spine.
Discs are sometimes analogized to jelly donuts. The outer part, which is actually called the annulus fibrosis, holds in the “jelly,” which is called the nucleus pulposus.
In addition to the bones and discs, the spine includes the surrounding soft tissues — muscles, ligaments, tendons, blood vessels and nerves.
Let’s briefly look at the nerves.
The spinal cord originates at the brain and travels down the spinal canal. As it descends, the spinal cord gives off smaller nerves that leave the spine between each vertebra through an opening called the foramen.
The nerves that leave the spine in the cervical area travel into the arms and hands. Similarly, the nerves that leave the spine in the thoracic area mostly go into the chest and stomach. And finally, the nerves that leave the spinal canal in the lumbar spine area travel into the legs and feet.
Let’s look at the most common types of traumatic injuries to these back structures . . .
Ligaments are bands of fibrous tissue that connect bones together and help to stabilize joints. When those ligaments are stretched or torn in the back, the result is a back sprain, which can cause pain and stiffness.
There are also muscles in the back. When those muscles are stretched or torn, a back strain results. Sometimes, these are called “pulled muscles.” They often occur when the muscles are suddenly and powerfully contracted or when they stretch unusually far.
Lumbar fractures (broken bones) are serious injuries. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, lumbar fractures fall into several classifications.
Flexion fractures include compression fractures, in which the vertebra collapses at the front but not the back; and axial burst fractures,, in which the vertebra collapses at both the front and the back.
Extension fractures, sometimes called Chance fractures, occur when the vertebra literally pulls apart, as in an accident where the pelvis is stabilized but the upper body moves violently forward. Rotation fractures occur when the body bends violently sideways or when the vertebrae are displaced, with one moving away from the one next to it.
When back motion puts too much pressure on a disc, a herniated disc may result. Sometimes these are called “slipped discs” or “ruptured discs.” In this injury, the annulus is torn and part of the nucleus pulposus squeezes out of the center of the disc. In the jelly donut analogy, the jelly comes out of the donut. If the tear is on the side of the disc next to the spinal canal, the nucleus pulposus can press against the spinal nerves.
With a herniated disk in your lower back, you may have sharp pain in part of the leg, hip, or buttocks and numbness in other parts. You may also feel pain or numbness on the back of the calf or sole of the foot. The same leg may also feel weak.
Diagnosis Of Traumatic Low Back Injuries
There are a number of tests available to help physicians diagnose low back injuries.
These are some of the more common tests . . .
- Computerized Tomography (CT)
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
- Electrodiagnostic procedures such as electromyography (EMG), nerve conduction studies, and evoked potential (EP) studies
- Bone scan
- Ultrasound imaging (sonogram)
Treatment Of Traumatic Low Back Injuries
The treatment(s) your doctor will prescribe will depend, of course, on the specific injury that you have.
Treatment of low back injuries can range from simple rest to complex surgery.
These are some of the common treatments of traumatic low back injuries . . .
- Medications, particularly for pain and anti-inflammatories
- Heat and ice
- Bed rest
- Spinal manipulation, often done by a chiropractor
- Interventional therapy such as injections or local anesthetics or steroids .
- Surgery, such as laminectomy, discectomy, foraminotomy and spinal fusion.
What Does A Back Injury Lawyer Do?
A traumatic back injury lawyer analyzes all aspects of your case, including liability issues and the nature and extent of your injuries and damages.
Your lawyer studies your medical records and contacts your doctors to determine the nature of your back injury and the extent of it.
Then, the back injury lawyer marshals the evidence of the injury and its effects on your life and determines the best way to present the evidence convincingly to often cynical and suspicious insurance adjusters or jurors.
If you have suffered a serious back injury due to someone’s carelessness, such as in an accident, contact us.