When you’ve been in a vehicle accident, you can experience back pain and spasms that last a few days, months, years, or even a lifetime.
Fortunately, most back pain goes away in a few days. When it doesn’t, that may indicate a serious condition that needs treatment or even surgery.
The Anatomy of the Back
The back is made up of bones, muscles, nerves, ligaments, skin, and other tissues. Injuries to any of these (alone or in combination) can cause pain.
The spinal column consists of 30 stacked bones called vertebrae. Each bone has a small hole through which the spinal cord runs.
The spine has four regions:
- C1 to C7: the neck or cervical vertebrae
- T1 to T12: the upper back or thoracic vertebrae
- L1 to L5: the lower back or lumbar vertebrae
- The sacrum and coccyx (tailbone), a group of fused bones at the base of the spine
The spaces between the vertebrae are filled by spongy pads of cartilage (protective tissue) called intervertebral discs. They are relatively tough on the outside but filled with a soft sort of gel on the inside. A slipped disc (also called a herniated or prolapsed disc) is a condition in which one of the spinal discs ruptures and the gel inside leaks out. This can cause both back pain and pain in other regions of the body controlled by the nerve that the disc is pressing on.
Discs tend to lose their water content as people grow older, making them less flexible and more likely to rupture.
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body, and it runs from the back of the pelvis through the buttock area and down the legs to the feet. Pressure placed on this nerve due to a slipped disc or another type of back injury can cause pain, numbness, and tingling in one or both legs.
The spinal cord contains nerve cells and nerve fibers and connects all the parts of the body to the brain. It carries signals from your brain that tell your body how to move, and it carries signals back from your body, telling your brain when you’re feeling pain and other sensations. Thus, an injury to the spinal column can cause paraplegia (loss of feeling or function in the legs and lower body) or quadriplegia (loss of feeling or function in all four limbs).
The higher up on the spinal column that an injury occurs, the more extensive the injury is likely to be. Pain, loss of function, or loss of feeling are also affected by whether the spinal cord is severed or only damaged or bruised.
For more about spinal cord injuries, please read our page here.
Causes of Back Pain
Back pain is most commonly causes by trauma some kind of blow or shock to the back or by a medical disorder such as arthritis. Back pain can be due to:
- Vehicle accidents (especially when your car’s been rear-ended)
- Slips and falls (especially when you land on your back)
- Sports accidents (especially if you’ve been hit in the back or twisted your back)
- Muscle strains (such as when reaching for something or picking up a heavy object)
- Bone lesions
- Disc disease
- Bone disease (such as osteoporosis)
- Congenital abnormalities (such as curvature of the spine)
- Viral infections
- Weight gain (including during pregnancy)
- Bad posture
- Standing all day at work
- A poorly designed chair
- Repetitive stress
- A poor sleeping position or poor-quality mattress
- Buildup of scar tissue from multiple injuries
- A pinched nerve
- Wearing a heavy backpack or carrying a heavy purse or suitcase
When back pain is accompanied by a fever, loss of bladder or bowel control, pain when coughing, or increasing weakness in the legs, that may indicate a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention in order to prevent permanent damage.
Types of Back Pain and Spasms or Other Back Problems
When different people talk about back pain or injuries, they may actually be talking about different types of sensations:
- Limited flexibility or range of motion
- The inability to stand up straight or twist
Pain can occur:
- In the upper back, near the neck
- Between the shoulder blades
- In the lower back (lumbar region)
- On one only side of the back
- Along the spinal column
Pain in the lumbar region is most common. The five vertebrae of the lumbar spine (called L1 to L5) are the biggest unfused vertebrae in the spinal column and support the weight of the torso. The lower two segments (L-4 and L-5) bear the most weight and, thus, are the most prone to damage and injury. In the lumbar spine, the spine curves outward.
Pain can be:
- Intermittent (coming and going)
- Related to particular types of movement
- Progressive (getting worse)
Back pain that lasts for more than three months is considered chronic.
Lower Back Pain
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (part of the National Institutes of Health), almost everyone experiences back pain at some point that interferes with their work, daily activities, or recreational activities.
Men and women are equally affected by back pain, and it’s most seen in people between the ages of 30 and 50.
Back pain is the most common type of work-related disability and one of the leading reasons that people miss work.
Americans spend at least $50 billion per year on treatments and therapies for lower back pain.
Whiplash is one of the most common types of soft-tissue injury after an accident. Although people typically think of whiplash as a neck injury, it can extend into the upper back. Lower back pain can also be caused by injury to the discs, facet joints, or sacroiliac joints after a whiplash-type injury.
Diagnosing Back Pain
Diagnosing back pain normally starts with a physical exam. If your doctor suspects something more complicated than a simple strain, he or she may order imaging tests such as x-rays, MRIs, or CT scans.
Blood tests may also be ordered in some cases.
Treatments for Back Pain
If you’ve been injured in any kind of an accident, it’s always a good idea to see your doctor right away in order to document your injury in case you decide to bring a claim or a lawsuit. You may think that you’re fine and that your pain will go away soon, but you may be wrong.
Failing to document your injury properly can lose you the chance to recover what you deserve for your injuries in the form of money you may need to get better.
Failure to get treatment you need can leave you with months or years of pain and even a lifelong disability.
In short, you’re not doing yourself any favors by toughing it out.
Treatment for back pain will depend on the nature of the pain and the part of the back that’s injured.
Most back pain is treated without surgery. Treatment usually starts with pain medications and medicine to reduce inflammation.
You should contact your doctor if your pain isn’t much better after 72 hours of these self-care measures.
The treatment for a slipped disk normally includes physical therapy, massage, exercise, and pain medication. It’s important to keep moving (at least after the first few days), as this will speed up recovery. Swimming is particularly ideal because the water supports your weight so you don’t put pressure on your back.
Some people also find that alternative therapies, such as chiropractic, acupuncture, biofeedback, ultrasound, and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), can help with back pain.
In more serious cases, surgery may be required.
You Don’t Have to Put Up with Back Pain
If your back pain is minor, you may think that you’re not entitled to compensation and that you just have to live with it. That’s not true. There are various types of medications and therapies that can help with your back pain. Also, the person or company that caused your pain may be responsible to compensate you and pay for your medical bills and for the damage to your quality of life, however major or minor.
Whether your back pain is major or minor, short-lasting or permanent, an annoyance or the cause of a lifelong disability, you can seek compensation when someone else is at fault.
It’s impossible to predict exactly what your recovery will be, but it will be based on things such as the extent of your injuries, the amount of pain you experience, the extent and cost of your medical treatment, and the amount of time you miss from work.
Following are some examples of back injury damages we’ve recovered for clients:
- $150,000. Broken bones. Client t-boned in Mesa, suffered severe back injuries. Insurance company settled after independent medical examination and filing lawsuit.
- $37,000. Commercial truck accident. Client suffered severe back and neck injuries after being rear-ended in Tempe.
- $37,000. Auto accident. Client suffered pain from lower back injury after being t-boned in Mesa.
- $37,000. Highway accident. Client suffered extensive back injury after being rear-ended while on her way to work in Chandler.