Motor Vehicle Accident Injury
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Motor Vehicle Accident Injuries
There are numerous injuries that can occur from a car accident, though head, neck and back injuries tend to be the most serious. Below is a brief overview of some of the most common problems associated with motor vehicle accidents.
In the medical world, a concussion is considered a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). As a result of the trauma, the brain cannot function the way it normally does, and your ability to perform your normal activities with the same speed, reaction time, and precision can be significantly altered.
Fortunately the symptoms of a concussion in most cases are temporary and resolve over time. With each concussion, however, there is a small chance that permanent brain damage can occur, so proper treatment and sound medical advice regarding management of this injury is crucial.
What causes a concussion?
In simple terms, a concussion can be caused by anything that ‘rattles the brain.’ In other words, any force that causes the brain to move rapidly within the skull can cause a concussion.
Motor vehicle accidents often cause concussions due to the whiplash motion of your neck, which subsequently forces your brain to rapidly hit the inside of your skull.
What are the symptoms of a concussion?
Signs and symptoms of a concussion can vary between individuals and symptoms are not always obvious. If the mechanism of injury for a concussion is present, the individual needs to be thoroughly examined.
In most cases, there is no loss of consciousness. But if you do lose consciousness, you have most certainly sustained a concussion. Any loss of consciousness should be taken seriously, and any bouts lasting more than approximately a minute are considered severe.
Signs and symptoms of a concussion can last days, weeks, months, or even longer in some cases. Fortunately, in the majority of cases, symptoms usually resolve within 7-10 days.
One of the most common symptoms of a concussion is a headache. Confusion is another common sign. This sign can easily be overlooked by the examiner unless the patient is moderately to severely confused, so ruling out a concussion should not be based on the fact that the patient ‘did not appear confused.’
Other signs and symptoms of a concussion that may be present on their own or in combination are concentration difficulties, decreased attention, difficulty with mental tasks, memory problems, difficulties with judgment, a decrease in balance and coordination, a feeling of disorientation, a feeling of being ‘dazed,’ fatigue, blurred vision, light and/or sound sensitivity, difficulty sleeping or sleeping more than usual, being overly emotional, being irritable or sad, neck pain, a feeling of ‘not being right’, and ringing in the ears. Amnesia may be another symptom. In severe concussions, a change in personality may even occur.
If you or someone you know shows even one sign or symptom listed above, you most likely experienced a concussion and it is very important to get a full evaluation.
Signs and symptoms that are even more severe after an injury to the head, such as recurrent vomiting, a change in pupil size, blood or fluid coming from the ears or nose, seizures, or obvious physical coordination or mental difficulties indicate a severe brain injury and require immediate emergency attention.
In most cases, signs and symptoms appear immediately after the concussion has occurred. In some cases, the signs and symptoms can be delayed by a few hours or possibly even days. For this reason, if the mechanism of injury suggests a concussion despite a lack of obvious symptoms being immediately present, the patient needs to be thoroughly examined before returning to activity.
Whiplash is defined as a sudden extension (backward movement of the neck) and flexion (forward movement of the neck) of the cervical spine. This type of trauma is also referred to as a cervical acceleration-deceleration (CAD) injury. Rear-end or side-impact motor vehicle collisions are the number one cause of whiplash with injury to the muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints, and discs of the cervical spine.
What causes this condition?
When the head and neck are suddenly and forcefully whipped forward and back, mechanical forces place excessive stress on the cervical spine. Traumatic disc rupture and soft tissue damage can occur. The cartilage between the disc and the vertebral bone is often cracked. This is known as a rim lesion.
Damage to the disc can put pressure on the nerves as they exit the spine. The pressure or irritation can be felt as numbness on the skin, weakness in the muscles, or pain along the path of the nerve. This is considered a pinched nerve or cervical radiculopathy.
Soft tissue around the facet joint can be injured. Many of the pain-sensing nerves of the spine are in the facet joints. The normally smooth surfaces on which these joints glide can become rough, irritated, and inflamed. Studies show that neck pain often comes from the damaged facet joints.
Low Back Pain
Low back pain is a common feature after a whiplash injury. Studies show that there is significant electrical activity in the muscles of the lumbar spine when the neck is extended. This effect increases when there is neck pain, possibly as a way to help stabilize the spine when neck pain causes weakness.
More than anyplace else in the body, the muscles of the neck sense sudden changes in tension and respond quickly. Tiny spindles in the muscles signal the need for more muscle tension to hold against the sudden shift in position.
The result is often muscle spasm as a self-protective measure. The increased muscle tone prevents motion of the inflamed joint. You may experience neck stiffness as a result.
There are many factors that come into play when a person is injured in a rear-end motor vehicle accident. Any one or more of the following factors can affect recovery:
- Head turned one way or the other at the time of the impact (increases risk of nerve
involvement with pain down the arm)
- Getting hit from behind (rear-impact collision)
- Previous neck pain or headaches
- Previous similar injury
- Being unaware of the impending impact
- Poor posture at the time of impact (head, neck, or chest bent forward)
- Poor position of the headrest or no headrest
- Crash speed under 10 mph
- Being in the front seat as opposed to sitting in the back seat of the car
- Collision with a vehicle larger than yours
- Being of slight build
- Wearing a seatbelt (a seat belt should always be worn, but at lower speeds, a lap and shoulder type seat belt will increase the chances of injury)
How Physical Therapy Can Help Motor Vehicle Accident Injuries
After a car accident, symptoms such as reduced range of motion, headaches, stiffness and pain may not appear right after the accident. This is often because your body responded with high doses of adrenaline, which mask the symptoms early on.
Using specific exercises, manual therapy and stretches, Dr. Trinh can support the recovery process and help keep the pain at bay, assist in gradually improve flexibility, increasing strength and speed up recovery.
If you have just experienced an accident, Physical Therapy can help prevent long-term damage and chronic pain, thereby decreasing the likelihood of pain medications and opioid dependence. If you are dealing with the repercussions of an old car accident injury, Dr. Trinh can still help you restore function with non-invasive treatment.