Sometimes, it hits you when you least expect it.
You don’t always feel it right after the impact of a car crash or work accident. And other times, the impact is hard enough that you feel it instantly.
We’re talking about back pain, of course. Whether you’re experiencing it right after the accident or a day or two later, waving it off as not a big deal is NOT the way to handle it.
The reality is that, according to the Georgia Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, thousands of individuals are injured in auto accidents each year. Many others are injured on the job. Unfortunately, many of these situations aren’t handled correctly by the people involved.
Continue reading for information on handling accident injuries the right way.
When should you get checked by a doctor?
Just because you feel okay after an accident doesn’t mean that you are. Your pain could start hours to a few days after an accident. Delayed onset back pain after an auto accident is common and could be a symptom of a spinal injury, herniated disc or a soft tissue injury.
Immediately after a crash, some accident victims may initially feel okay. But when the adrenaline wears off, delayed back pain can present itself in the days or even weeks following. This is why it’s important to seek medical care even if you don’t feel injured.
Getting medical attention immediately after an accident protects you in case that pain does ramp up due to your injury being more severe than you thought. And if you wait to seek medical attention days after the incident, insurance companies can argue that your symptoms are caused by activities that occurred after the accident.
What are common types of back pain after a car accident?
We commonly use the term “back pain” to describe a whole host of injuries that may cause pain in your neck and/or back. Some conditions may be minor and ultimately heal on their own with rest, while other back injuries require extensive therapy and even surgery.
As the uppermost section of the spine, your neck is extremely vulnerable to injury during an impact. Whiplash is by far the most common neck injury, with more than 3 million new cases reported each year. Over half of whiplash diagnoses show chronic symptoms, and about 1 in 10 people who suffer whiplash are permanently disabled.
Unlike other car accident injuries, whiplash and other neck injuries are quite common in “minor” low-speed rear-end collisions. Whiplash occurs when the neck suddenly jolts backward and then forward violently, resulting in a whip-like motion. This force stretches and tears the muscles and tendons in your neck.
In some cases, mild whiplash goes away with time, rest, over-the-counter pain relief medications and some hot or cold presses. However, moderate to severe cases of whiplash can cause chronic pain and disability. Treatments for severe cases may involve physical therapy, pain medication, neck injections, collars and, in rare cases, surgery.
Degenerative disc disease
Degenerative spinal disorder is a group of conditions that describe when 1 or more of the discs situated between the vertebrae is damaged, torn, pinched or deteriorated, resulting in significant back pain. Though degenerative disc disease is typically an age-related condition, traumatic events (such as a serious car accident) can trigger premature disc degeneration.
Degenerative disc disease can cause a wide range of health conditions, including:
- Herniated (slipped or bulging) discs
- Spinal stenosis
- Degenerative scoliosis
- Bone spurs
- Pinched nerves
Pain from a spinal disc injury is referred to as “discogenic.” Discogenic pain is usually shooting, sharp and debilitating—and it can happen while you are still or engaging in an activity that irritates the disc. This intense pain often spreads to a person’s legs, butt, feet and groin areas.
Treatment for degenerative disc disorders varies depending on the exact condition, ranging from non-surgical treatments such as pain medication, steroids, heat/ice therapy and electrical shock to surgical treatments such as disc removal (discectomy) and spinal fusion.
Muscle strains and sprains
Soft-tissue, which includes the muscles, tendons and ligaments that support your lower back, is weaved across your entire back from your shoulders to your tailbone. When put under too much stress, these tissues can be injured. The resulting pain and spasms from a pulled back muscle or torn ligament can be surprisingly severe.
A pulled back muscle or ligament can take up to 6 weeks of treatment, and some severe strains might even take months to fully heal. During this recovery period, certain positions and activities might aggravate back pain and be impossible to do.
Spinal cord injuries
Without a doubt, the most serious back injuries are ones that involve damage to the spinal cord, which is a bundle of nerves and tissues that connect your brain and the rest of your body. The vertebrae in your spine are designed to protect your spinal cord (part of your central nervous system) from injury.
When a collision or accident results in spinal cord damage, often there are debilitating long-term and permanent consequences. Total or partial paralysis and chronic pain are possible, as is an infection, blood clots, spinal fluid leaks and other serious medical conditions.
What are the regions of the spine?
Your back and neck, which encompasses your spine, is a complex network of muscles, ligaments, tendons and 33 individual bones called “vertebrae.” The vertebrae in the spine are broken into 4 distinct regions:
- Cervical (C1-C7). The cervical region of the spine encompasses the top 7 vertebrae that form the neck. When accident victims suffer a whiplash injury, typically it’s 1 or more of the cervical bones that are affected.
- Thoracic (T1-T12). The thoracic region of the spine is the 12 vertebrae that make up your upper back. Injuries to the upper and mid-back are usually caused by blunt force or trauma, as is common in severe car or motorcycle accidents. Thoracic spine injuries are usually quite serious since this region of the spine connects to your ribs and chest, which protects your vital organs.
- Lumbar (L1-L5). The lower back is known as the lumbar region of your spine and is made up of 5 vertebrae. These bones are the largest and strongest vertebrae in your spine, providing the stability and support needed to move.
- Sacral (S1-S5). Together, the sacrum and coccyx (tailbone) are composed of 9 vertebrae at the bottom of the spine that are fused to form 1 solid bone structure. Broken tailbones are quite common in auto accidents due to the tremendous outside forces that come into play. Injuries to the sacrum or tailbone can cause radiating pain and the recovery time can be long.
In between each of these vertebrae are shock-absorbing “discs” and 31 pairs of nerve roots.
Facet joint spine injuries
In addition to vertebrae, facet joints are another important component to a healthy spine. These joints help with controlling movement and supporting the weight of your body. They are encased by a thick, flexible membrane to stay lubricated by a viscous fluid.
When facet joints are damaged in a collision or other accident, it can be especially painful due to the large concentration of nerves surrounding the joint and spine. Traumatic events can also cause facet joint disease, which is when the facet joints degenerate. CT scans, X-rays or MRIs can usually detect facet joint injuries, and treatment may involve the help of a chiropractor.
What to do if you feel back pain after an accident
As you can see, your back and neck are composed of a complex system of bones, soft-tissue and nerves. Many areas are vulnerable to injury in the event of an auto accident and the sooner you receive treatment the better, which is why it’s crucial that you seek medical attention as soon as possible following a crash.
After you’ve been diagnosed and are following the doctor’s orders for treatment, it’s time to talk to an attorney near you who specializes in back injury cases. These claims are often very complicated and involve significant medical costs, resulting in contested claims. For these reasons, it’s vital to hire an experienced lawyer who can best represent you.
Pro tip: Record as many details as you can
It’s of utmost importance that you can record as many details as is possible, by writing down information, taking pictures and video recording the scene. Depending on the severity of the accident, doing this may not be possible and you’ll have to rely on information from witnesses.
In addition to recording your own information, it’s also important to file a police report as this may be required by your insurance company.
What about on-the-job car accidents?
In the event that the car accident occurred while you were working, your employer will most likely be required to pay for your medical expenses and lost wages under Georgia’s workers’ compensation law. Since workers’ compensation is a no-fault system, you should be covered by workers’ compensation and receive benefits if an accident occurred while you were working, even if the accident was your fault, as long as you weren’t under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
After being hurt in a car accident that occurred while working, you’ll want to file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits by reporting the accident to your employer immediately.
When is a car accident “work-related”?
Generally speaking, you may be covered by workers’ compensation if you are an employee (and therefore eligible for workers’ compensation), were on the clock, and the accident occurred while you were:
- running an errand for your boss or employer
- making deliveries
- transporting another employee
- traveling for work and have no fixed office, or
- commuting to or from work and are compensated by your employer for travel time
- Nearly 40% of motor vehicle accidents are work-related, which poses a significant risk to employees who drive for their jobs.
- From 2003-2017, more than 27,000 workers in the U.S. died in a work-related motor vehicle crash.
- Motor vehicle crashes are the 1st or 2nd leading cause of death in every major industry group.
Typically, you’re not able to collect workers’ compensation benefits for a car accident that occurred while you were commuting to or from work (unless your work compensates you for commuting), or any accidents that occur during your lunch break and while you’re “off the clock.” The exception to this rule is if you are involved in a crash while on the way to work to pick up supplies for the office or grab a coffee for your boss who specifically asked you to do so.
When should you hire a Georgia workers’ compensation lawyer?
If you’re injured in an accident while on the job, it takes an experienced Georgia workers’ compensation attorney to go up against an insurance company to make sure you receive the compensation you deserve.
Whether you want to believe it or not, insurance companies aren’t sitting around waiting to pay out money. They want to keep as much money as they can so that they make more profit. You need lawyers on your side who know the ropes and are ready to fight for you.
Read our full article for more information on taking the right actions if you or a loved one suffer a back or neck injury in an accident.