Injuries to the back and spine run the gamut from a strained muscle to fractured vertebrae to a spinal cord injury. In the U.S., roughly a quarter-million people have a spinal cord injury, with about half of them paraplegic, the other half quadriplegic.
Each year, around 11,000 new injuries occur. Most spinal-cord-injured persons are male and young; the average age is 31.
Those Most at Risk
While spinal cord injury due to accidents can happen to anyone, certain things may increase your chances of suffering a traumatic spinal cord injury:
- Being a guy. Most spinal cord injuries (80 percent) happen to males.
- Being aged 16 to 30, or over 65. In the younger group, the danger comes from unsafe behavior and accidents. In the older group, falls are the problem.
- Risky behavior at any age. Not taking precautions or failing to use appropriate safety gear can lead to injuries.
Architecture of the Spine
The main support of our bodies, the spine (otherwise known as the backbone), consists of 33 bone segments that have discs acting as shock absorbers placed between them. The spine protects the spinal cord, which runs from the brain the length of the spine, serving as a channel for messages to and from all parts of our body. Often the brain and spinal cord together are called the central nervous system. Ligaments and muscles support the spine.
The spine’s vertebrae, or bones, are grouped into three segments:
- Cervical, from the base of your skull to about one-third down; essentially, your neck and upper back—the first seven vertebrae
- Thoracic, the middle third; essentially, your middle back—the next 12 vertebrae
- Lumbar, the lower third; your lower back—the final five vertebrae.
Many things can damage the back, from a simple wrong movement that strains a muscle or ligament, to an accident that breaks vertebrae or injures the spinal cord itself.
Just an Aching Back, or More Serious?
The location of an injury often changes the location and severity of the symptoms. For example, damage to the spinal cord will generally cause weakness and numbness at and below the location of the injury.
An injury to the lumbar vertebrae, while it does not cause spinal cord injury, can cause cauda equina syndrome. This syndrome is a medical emergency involving the nerve roots in the area and calls for immediate surgery.
Common symptoms of a back injury are:
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Weakness or paralysis
- Spasticity (abnormal muscle stiffness or involuntary contractions).
Additional, more localized symptoms can occur. Cervical, or neck injuries, can cause breathing difficulties, if the injury is high on the neck. Thoracic, or chest-level injuries, can result in abnormal sweating and blood pressure problems.
Lumbar, or lower back injuries, can affect the use of one or both legs.
Danger: Spinal Cord Injuries
Damage to the spinal cord can cause significant pain, partial or full paralysis, or even death. The most common causes of spinal cord injuries are:
- Car, truck, and motorcycle accidents. These account for more than 35 percent of spinal cord injuries every year.
- Falls. Spinal cord injuries after the age of 65 are most often caused by falls, and falls cause more than 25 percent of all spinal cord injuries.
- Acts of violence. Assault, especially gunshot and knife wounds, account for 15 percent of spinal cord injuries every year.
- Sports and recreational injuries, including diving and impact sports. These cause about 9 percent of spinal cord injuries.
The worst trauma is usually suffered by those with injuries to the upper spine and neck. On the other hand, those who suffer trauma in the thoracic regions may go on to live independent lives and work, even though they may be in a wheelchair.
Other Kinds of Spinal Injuries
Many spinal injuries don’t affect the spinal cord at all. Vertebrae can suffer a compression or burst fracture, or be dislocated, and not damage the cord. Spinal fractures can require surgery to repair the damage, in which case vertebrae are often fused together with screws or other hardware to form a bone graft.
If you have spinal surgery, post-surgical complications can include anesthesia problems, deep vein thrombosis, drug reactions, infections, problems with screws or back hardware, and persistent pain.
Diagnosing Back and Spinal Injuries
A doctor will take a complete history and perform a physical exam. But there are also tests which your doctor might order to aid in diagnosis:
- X-rays can provide a look at the bones of the spine to check for fractures and tumors.
- CT scans are used to identify certain conditions such as a herniated disc.
- MRI scans provide data relevant to the discs and nerves, and are often used pre-surgery.
Trusted advisors. Proven advocates.
Located in Indianapolis, the McNeely Stephenson law firm has been successfully representing Indiana back and spinal injury cases since 1982. If you or your loved one has suffered a spinal injury — in a car or truck crash, a workplace accident, a sports competition or a diving accident — which was due to the negligence of another person, business or manufacturer, let the resources and experience of spinal injury lawyers McNeely Stephenson put you on the path to justice and financial security. Use the convenient on-line contact form or call 855-206-2555. Hand the worry over to us and let our resources back you up.