Spinal cord injuries can occur in a variety of ways; however, the most common cause is motor vehicle accidents. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons notes that these incidents account for a major percentage of spinal trauma in young people and for the approximately 17,000 new injuries that occur per year in the United States.
Not all spinal injuries look the same and can cause a variety of symptoms. Understanding the risks and identifying the signs of such an injury may allow those involved in a car accident to seek medical attention sooner, especially if the symptoms make the nature of spinal trauma unclear.
Complete spinal cord injury
This type of spinal trauma causes paralysis below the area of the injury, such as a cracked or crushed vertebrae. Serious bruising to the spinal cord may also cause a lack of sensation below the affected area. This type of injury accounts for nearly half of spinal cord trauma cases. A major number of complete spinal cord injuries that occur during car accidents are permanent.
Incomplete spinal cord injury
Some car accidents can cause severe whiplash and affect the spinal cord in a way that is not always immediately apparent. During an incomplete injury, the victim may experience numbness or the inability to move an arm or leg on one side of the body. Depending on the severity of the injury, sensation issues may worsen over time, especially if the injury causes problems with mobility.
Serious car accidents can also cause an open spinal injury, where blood and spinal fluid leakage can occur. Such injuries often cause additional problems, such as infection and slow healing.