A Dissection of Auto Accident Injuries: Spinal Cord Injury

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By Dennis Hernandez

Throughout this series of articles, we will cover the most common injuries that occur after an auto accident. Car crashes are tough on the body, no matter what speed you’re traveling at. Because of this, the severity of injuries in accidents is usually far worse. 

Among the most severe damages that happen due to auto accidents, are spinal cord injuries. A spinal cord injury can leave you permanently paralyzed. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) defines spinal cord injury as: a sudden, traumatic blow to the spine that fractures or dislocates vertebrae. This can cause immediate damage as soon as it occurs. Bone fragments or disc material can tear into spinal cord tissue, creating fractures and compressions that can destroy axons. 

Axons are nerve fibers that are long projections which conduct electrical impulses away from the nerve cell center. In layman’s terms, the axon transmits information to different parts of the body. Axons are vitally important in assuring that all basic motor functions are working properly. When spinal cord injuries occur, they may crush or damage axons, leaving the body entirely paralyzed. More often than not, a SCI will cause permanent damage in strength, sensation and other body functions. 

If you’ve been in an auto accident that left you with a spinal cord injury, you could be compensated for all of your economic losses. A personal injury attorney can help you recover for damages, lost wages, and medical bills. Dennis Hernandez & Associates is an experienced law firm with a group of aggressive attorneys.

Statistics

Unfortunately, spinal cord injuries happen on a daily basis in car accidents, and most causes are drunk driving. It’s as common as Paracetamol and Alcohol intoxication accidents.  The fast whipping of the body back and forth causes separation of the vertebrae in an easy manner. As of 2019, there are more than 17,500 new SCI cases every year. That number doesn’t include the people who died at the location of the incident. 

Across the United States. you will find people that are currently living with a spinal cord injury. The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, where these statistics are pulled from, estimates that 291,000 people have an existing SCI. The median age of those injuries is 43 years old. 

Not every spinal cord injury is caused by a car accident, but they are the leading contributor. Since 2015, auto accidents make up 39.3% of all spinal cord injury cases. Falls, violence, sports, and surgeries are the other common causes. Here are some other statistics about SCIs:

  • Length of stay in hospital is around 11 days
  • Incomplete paraplegia is the most common result of a SCI
  • Medical bills can reach more than $1 million within the first year of the incident
  • Lifetime expenses can reach $3 million if the accident occurs when the person is 50 years old
  • 78% of SCI cases are male

The statistics highlight how common spinal cord injuries truly are. They affect 54 people per one million. 

Diagnosis

Spinal cord injuries are broken down as complete or incomplete. A complete injury means that the damage caused a total lack of sensory and motor function below the area of injury. An incomplete injury means the ability of axons to communicate with the body is not completely lost. An incomplete spinal cord injury can usually be reversed with dedication to extensive physical therapy.

Surgery is, more often than not, necessary after the spinal tissue and surrounding bones are broken/dislocated. The largest issue with spinal cord injury diagnosis is that they are not always detectable immediately. Due to this fact, head injuries, pelvic fractures, penetrating spine injuries, and falls are all assed for a possible SCI. 

Tests to conclude that a spinal cord injury has occurred include: CT scans, MRIs, myelograms, and magnetic stimulation testing. Diagnosis of incomplete or complete injuries is based on the exhibited motor functions of the person.

Types of SCI

We know that there are incomplete and complete injuries. Both have certain sets of challenges, but complete SCIs will leave someone with permanent paralysis. Paraplegia and tetraplegia are the other subsections of SCI diagnosis. Paraplegia refers to an injury that affected the waist to the toes, while tetraplegia (a.k.a. quadriplegia) refers to injuries from the neck to the toes. These subcategories can both be complete or incomplete. 

There are four different types of spinal cord injuries that are based on which area of the spinal cord it occurred. The spine consists of 33 different vertebrae that make up four different sections: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral. The severity of the injury is usually concurrent with the section of the spine that is injured. 

  • Cervical
    • The cervical portion of the spine includes the seven vertebrae at the top of the spinal cord. Cervical spinal cord injuries are often the most severe because they are closer to the brain. They affect a larger portion of the body because of this. Usually, an injury to this area will cause paralysis. 
  • Thoracic
    • The thoracic area includes the twelve vertebrae located in the upper and middle part of the back. This area of the spine affects upper-body muscles, control of the rib cage, lungs, diaphragm, and abdominals. Injuries to the thoracic vertebrae will usually result in incomplete spinal cord injuries. 
  • Lumbar
    • The lumbar section of the spine consists of the five vertebrae at the bottom of the back. This area carries the most weight of any other part of the spine. Because so much of your body weight relies on the lumbar vertebrae, injuries to this area will usually result in paraplegia. 
  • Sacral
    • The sacral area of the spine is known as the coccyx. It is five bones that are fused together to create a triangular sacrum. The bladder, bowel, and sex organs are controlled by the sacral area. An injury to this area of the spine will cause some degree of loss of function in the hips and legs. 

Symptoms & Complications

Symptoms of a spinal cord injury are hard to pinpoint directly. Each case is going to be different than the next. With the possibility of 33 different vertebrae being comprised, that control all corners of your body, the list of possible symptoms is enormous. However, the most common include:

  • Pain or pressure in your back, neck, or head
  • Incoordination and paralysis of limbs
  • Numbness, tingling, or lack of sensation
  • Loss of bowel control
  • Lack of balance
  • Difficulty breathing

The list is endless, which is why diagnosis is often tremendously difficult until multiple tests are concluded. Complications can arise immediately or begin to affect you over time. Do not waste time if you’re feeling any of these symptoms; a minute could mean the difference between walking away and paraplegia. 

Recovery

Spinal cord injuries are one of the unfortunate incidents for which not much can be done. There is no way to reverse the damage that has been done. As with all medicine, clinical trials are always being tested to change the fate of those with spinal cord injuries. New medications are being produced that promote nerve cell regeneration and improve the function of the remaining nerves after the injury. 

If you suffered an incomplete spinal cord injury, hard rehabilitation could return you to your normal self; still, nothing is guaranteed. 

Contributor Section

Dennis started practicing law at just 23 years old. He obtained his undergraduate degree from Duke University and continued to earn law degrees from Florida State University College of Law and Harvard Law School. Blessed with multiple associations, memberships and awards, Dennis graduated from the Trial Lawyers College. Mr. Hernandez is one of only 1,378 attorneys who claim this distinction. ​ In 1996, he founded firm Dennis Hernandez & Associates, P.A., which concentrates in the areas of personal injury, medical malpractice and product liability. Dennis is admitted to practice law in all State of Florida courts, The Supreme Court of the United States, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh District, U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.