Overview

The estimated US population is around 324million, a recent study shows that the annual incidence of spinal cord injury (SCI) is approximately 54 cases per one million people in the United States, or about 175000 new SCI cases each year. According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Database, motor vehicle accidents have accounted for more than a third of all reported cases of spinal cord injury. Motor vehicle accidents also account for other injuries to the spine such as whiplash, vertebral fractures, and herniated discs. Keep reading further to know more insights about spinal cord injuries and why they are more prominent in a motor vehicle accident.

Spinal cord injury

A spinal cord injury is a damage to the spinal cord. It can be any part of the spinal cord or nerves at the end of the spinal canal. Spinal cord injury can result in serious disability and cause defects in many organs such as respiratory, gastrointestinal, urinary, and autonomic nervous system, skin, bone, and joints.

The cause and effects of spinal cord injury

SCI can be occurred both in traumatic and non-traumatic ways. The major traumatic cause is by motor vehicle crash, fall (sports and recreational activities) and violence (gunshot wounds). The leading non-traumatic cause includes neoplastic tumours and degenerative condition of the spinal column, followed by vascular and autoimmune disorders, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, congenitally and genetically such as spinal bifida. Here are some common spinal cord injuries caused due to motor vehicle accidents.

Whiplash injuries

One of the most constantly occurring spinal injuries during vehicle crashes is whiplash. It is a neck (cervical spine) injury that happens when the neck abruptly snaps back and forth in a fast motion, resulting in damage to the tissues in the neck, much like the fracturing of a whip. It can also lead to multiple spinal injuries. It will cause the victim to have a lifetime of suffering and emotional distress.

Symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • Feeling dizzy or drained
  • Sleep disruptions
  • Headaches at the base of the skull
  • Restricted neck movement
  • Memory issues
  • Hard to concentrate

Disc Injuries

The spine consists of multiple vertebrae – bony casings that contain the spinal column and secure it. They consist of a soft jelly-like substance which is found in between the vertebrate which prevents the discs from rubbing together. Motor vehicle accident leads the disc to shift, tear or even rupture. It creates pressure over the surrounding nerves and nerve roots causing herniated or ruptured disc.

Symptoms

  • Numbness and pain in the limb
  • Weakening of muscles
  • Pain in shoulders or low back to arms and legs

Spinal fracture

The body can be easily jerked in one direction during a car crash, and then another. All that pressure can cause tension which leads to fracture in the spine. Major trauma to the spine can result in other serious conditions, namely

  • Burst fracture:

The spinal cord itself is weakened by vertebra breaks in different locations and bony fragments, which can lead to paralysis and even death

  • Flexion/ Distraction fracture:

An injury typically found in head-on crashes where the upper portion of the body is pushed forward while the bottom stays in place (seatbelt) and breaks the vertebra apart.

  • Vertebral compression fracture:

It causes the front vertebra to collapse where the back remains in positions resulting in a wedge shape. People with high body mass can experience it when they are met with a vehicle collision.

Symptoms:

  • Paralysis
  • Weakness in the limbs
  • Loss of bladder
  • Numbness

Motor vehicle accident and Spinal cord injury

National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Centre (NSCSC) says motor vehicle collision plays a key role in spinal cord injury. It is more prevalent because of the changing demography, human lifestyle and geographic region. The differences in culture and climate and also urban texture can have a direct impact on the incidence of SCI and even their types and levels. Studies have shown that people with SCI die 2 to 5 times as early as people without SCI. At present the annual mortality rate is high, which is said to 3.8% of patients dying in the first year after injury, 1.6% of patients in the second year and then 1.2% of people for every year thereafter. Men are at high risk comparing to women although the gender ratio differs with each region. The mortality rate of SCI in men is 3 times higher than in women and the severity of injury is approximately 5 times higher than in non-traumatic SCI. However, the average age patients with SCI vary with different countries.

In the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Centre Database

of USA, the average age of patients with SCI has increased from 28.7 years during the 1970s to 41 years since 2005. Children are likely to be less affected by spinal injuries compared to adults. It has been recorded that motorcycle riders have severe injuries, more extreme traumas and a high mortality rate when compared to car drivers. Some serious injury has been sustained by airbag deployment. Researchers found airbags combined with seat belts effectively reduced spinal injuries from automobile accidents.

How it affects a person’s life

Spine injury followed by motor vehicle accident place a heavy financial burden on the patient and their family. The higher the risk in the spine more the sensation and internal body functions will be affected. Life expectancy depends on the severity of the injury, where on the spine the injury occurs and the age of the victim. Loss of employment and ability to learn. Spinal cord injury is associated with a risk of developing secondary conditions that can be weakening and even life-threatening. Depending on the severity patient may find themselves unable to walk. They work with different professionals over months and years in order to regain their ability to walk and so they can return to as much normal bodily function as possible.

Treatment for spinal cord injury

With the latest development in medical technology, there have been a number of specified imaging technology for diagnosing and acute surgical methods for treating spinal cord injury. Some of which includes

  • X-ray
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Immobilization
  • Surgery and medication

Final thoughts

The evidence from the study shows that spinal cord injury is mostly seen in the young. Irrespective of what comes down the road spinal injuries after a motor vehicle accident should never be considered lightly and ignored. Although many motor vehicle collisions cannot be prevented, drivers and passengers can do something to prevent the risk of injury and should be well aware of the preventive measures which include informed knowledge about traffic rules, speed limit, airbags, seat and shoulder belt, children, infants and other issues.