Injuries in Motor Vehicle Collisions

Posted Saturday, June 30, 2007 by Ed Harper

When you have been injured through no fault of you own, what signifies a significant injury from an insignificant one?

Certainly, pain is an indicator but a physician is likely to downplay its significance unless it progresses for some time. Also, numbness is important, but by itself does not indicate a truly threatening condition. However, when you have weakness which comes on suddenly and is severe, you must be examined immediately and if related to a spinal injury you may require surgery on an emergent basis.

When one has numbness emanating from the cervical spine and radiates to the index finger and thumb it is noticeable almost immediately. However, when one has numbness stemming from an injury to a nerve in the low back it is much harder to diagnose.

Some important facts about injuries:

When you neck is injured, the occipital muscles that attach along the back of the base of the skull can be strain and spasm. This can cause headaches and pinched nerves causing painful symptoms.

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome Injuries to Scalene muscles can pinch nerves that emerge from the thoracic outlet in the base of the neck. Many of the major nerves, arteries and veins headed to the arm and hand pass through this V or triangle. this is termed Thoracic Outlet Syndrome as compression in this area can lead to hand weakness, clumsiness and numbness, which most commonly affects the little finger and ring finger.

Herniated disks in the spine, cannot be ignored and adjustments to the vertebrae should not be performed.

Vertebra 33 bony segments make up the spine

Cervical 7

Thoracic or Dorsal 12

Lumbar 5

Sacral 5

Coccygeal 4

Vertebral Disc disks of fibrous cartilage enclosing a central mass, the nucleus pulposus. The disks separate the successive vertebrae and provide some cushioning and allow for movement.

Herniations and ruptured disk. The herniation to the disk occurs when the nucleus pulposus pushes out through the annulus, the tough cartilage allowing the disk material to protrude. A herniated disk can cause exquisite pain by pushing on the nerves and nerve roots coming from the spinal canal.

Pain takes on many forms

Somatic a pain that arises in the body, typically associated with injury or trauma

Neuropathic pain that comes from the nerves and may not respond to routine pain medications

Chronic long and drawn out, and the opposite of acute

Medication for pain relief include:

Anti inflammatories also known as NSAIDs Non steroidal anti inflammatories work by counteracting or diminishing inflammation or the effects of irritation

Steroids mediation that mimics a natural body material and reduces inflammation

Compounding utilizing more than one part to produce a more powerful medication

Anesthetics can be local or general. Local: medication that reduces sensation as well as pain. General: medication that tends to produce deep, painless sleep.

Narcotics Opiate medication used for treatment of pain

Motor vehicle collisions are a huge cause of injuries which affect the spine.

Rear end collisions typically cause a flexion and extension injury to ones neck and cervical region.

Improvements in the motor vehicle designs as far as reduction of vehicle damage through roll bars, seat belts and air bags have decreased the risk of death in collisions. However, in certain types of accidents, the laws of physics ensure injuries to people due to the forces exerted on the occupants. The newly designed bumpers which absorb a large majority of the impact, reducing the property damage, however, have done little to reduce the effects on ones body. The plastic bumper shells pop back into place and do not completely absorb the impact due to shock absorption type devices attaching the bumpers to the vehicles. Low property damage estimates reduce the possibility ones vehicle will sustain damage, but person sustains just as much of an injury, if not more severe injuries.

Rear end collisions cause injures as the car is propelled forward suddenly with little if any warning. The body is thrust back in the seat in a split-second of time an the head and neck snap back in a delayed whipping motion. Hence the word whiplash is used to connote the head being whipped forward and back. The neck muscles and ligaments become stretched in a flexion and extension motion. The head weighs approximately the same as a gallon of water and the neck muscles of most people cannot withstand the shearing forces exerted in the 1/10 of second.

The mid-back and low back can sustain injury when there is separation or distance from the seat back as the body is propelled and tossed about within the vehicle.

Front end or head-on impacts impart significantly more force on the occupant in the opposite motion. The force is intense as ones vehicle likely comes to a complete stop. Seat belts and air bags have reduced the likelihood one will go through the windshield or strike the steering wheel. The forces exerted on the spine can cause significant injuries, especially to the less physically strong person.

Air bag injuries can occur due to the explosive mechanism utilized to propel the bag out. The speeds of these air bags can exceed 100 mph and elderly and young people should sit in the back seat. The air bag can cause burns to the face and arms as well as trauma to the chest. Hearing loss and heart problems can also occur from the explosive forces exerted from the air bag.

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