Back pain is the most common injury people experience from a crash, particularly after being rear-ended. Most injury victims wonder how long their pain will last and hope it goes away on its own.
While some people do recover after a day or two, others suffer acute or chronic back pain.
The reasons for this vary. The spine and back is a complex organic machine made up of interconnected muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, bones, and nerves. All of this serves to protect the spinal cord, one of the most delicate structures in the human body.
Damage to any part of the back can leave a person suffering from severe pain, weakness, and disability.
Promptly See a Doctor
Don’t take chances with your health and well-being. Schedule a visit with your primary care physician or an urgent care clinic as quickly as possible after an auto accident even if you feel fine.
This puts your doctor on notice that you were in an accident. It also means that if you experience delayed back pain and other symptoms they will be able to offer accurate treatment or refer you to a specialist.
If you are in severe or debilitating back pain, you may need to go to the emergency room to be scanned. An X-ray or MRI can quickly tell a doctor what might be wrong so they can make the appropriate diagnosis and relieve your pain.
Sometimes, soft tissue injuries or injuries to the spinal column can take a week or more to appear. Regardless of when your back injury symptoms begin, don’t put off getting a medical evaluation. You may cause further injury to yourself, resulting in a much longer recovery time.
What Your Back Pain Could Mean
The back and spine are designed to be highly flexible. Trauma, however, can suddenly snap or twist the delicate muscles and joints. The cause of your back pain depends on where your injury is located.
The impact of the accident may snap, stretch, or twist the tendons and muscles in your upper back. This type of injury can cause pain in the neck and shoulders. Symptoms of whiplash typically fade away within a couple of weeks to a few months. If they don't, then there may be some underlying issues related to the spinal discs or facet joints.
Follow your doctor’s advice and don’t do anything to further strain or sprain the injured tissues. Common whiplash treatments include over-the-counter pain medicine, hot or cold compresses, stretches, and chiropractic care.
Bulging and Herniated Discs
In between the vertebrae of the spine are small rubbery discs that act as cushions and shock absorbers. These can be damaged during the moment of the accident. A spinal disc can be squeezed or knocked out of place, putting pressure on nearby nerves. If the disc breaks and leaks, it becomes a herniated disc.
Bulging discs and herniated discs can be quite painful and take weeks to heal. After a wreck, you may have multiple disc injuries, compounding your pain. A proper diagnosis and long-term treatment are needed to make a full recovery. In some cases, surgery is required.
Facet Joint Injury
Facet joints connect the bony fins of the spinal column (these “spinous processes” are what create the knobby bumps along a person’s back). The joints connect the vertebrae’s fins to keep them aligned.
An injury to a facet joint can be painful, causing symptoms such as muscle spasms, stiffness, and headaches. Since the injury site is so small, it can be hard to detect. A doctor who specializes in diagnosing spinal conditions should examine a person who may be suffering from facet joint pain.
The force of the car crash may cause one or more vertebrae to break. The most common type of spinal fracture caused by an accident is a compression fracture. Compression breaks create small cracks or fissures in the bone. Severe fractures may damage surrounding nerves or the spinal cord itself.
Spinal Cord Injury
An injury to the spinal cord is incredibly dangerous and requires immediate medical care. An accident can leave your spinal cord bruised, lacerated, or damaged due to swelling and inflammation. The higher up the back a spinal cord injury occurs, the more likely a person’s connectivity and control over parts of their body will be altered.
How Long Does Back Pain From a Car Accident Last?
Your recovery will depend on how severe the injury was, where the injury is located, and how well you follow the treatment plan provided by your doctors.
Many back injuries require multiple treatments and extended recovery times. The long road back to feeling like yourself again can be very emotional. You may have to deal with physical limitations that keep you from working and doing activities that you enjoy.
Acute vs Chronic Back Pain
Acute back pain is often short-term, lasting only a few days to a few weeks. Chronic back pain is defined as lasting for 12 weeks or more, even after the underlying cause has been treated. Roughly 1 in 5 people who suffer acute back pain develop chronic back pain.
Tips for Back Pain Relief
Gather a good support system to help take care of you and motivate you to get better. The healing process may require:
- Rest - The most important thing you can do in the aftermath of a car accident is to give your body time to relax and heal. A crash is a traumatic event that puts tons of stress on your body. Don’t rush to return to normal. Rest, eat healthy, drink water, and allow yourself time to recuperate.
- Medications - You’re likely suffering from a great deal of pain immediately following a car crash. Over-the-counter pain medications can reduce aches and pains. If those don’t work, your doctor can prescribe stronger painkillers. Muscle relaxants can reduce muscle spasms. Heating pads or ice packs can help with achy, sore muscles and joints.
- Injections - Corticosteroid injections temporarily reduce back and joint pain, inflammation, and irritation. This is not a long-term solution as the injections’ effects wear off over time.
- Physical therapy - Rest is good but eventually, you will need to get moving again. Long-term inactivity is just as bad as not resting enough. With your doctor’s permission, begin incorporating daily stretches and exercises into your routine. Home exercises can help build up lower back and core muscles for greater back and spine stability.
- Chiropractic care - A licensed chiropractor can help relieve pain and tension in your back, and also improve spinal function and alignment.
- Surgery - Unfortunately, severe back injuries like fractures or herniated discs may require surgery to repair the damage. This can extend a person’s recovery time but they’ll be healthier in the long run.
The most important thing to remember is to listen to your body and your doctor. Pushing yourself to return to normal activities too soon can increase your risk of re-injury or long-term complications.
Gary Martin Hays & Associates: Atlanta Back Pain Lawyers
Lower, middle, and upper back pain caused by car accidents make up a large majority of the personal injury cases we handle. Our attorneys can connect injured victims with spinal specialists and qualified chiropractors across Georgia to meet their treatment needs.
Don’t delay in seeking an accurate diagnosis for your back injury and consulting with our car accident lawyers about your legal rights. If you are suffering from back pain due to someone else’s negligence, you deserve to be fully compensated for your suffering, medical costs, and time lost from missing work.
Talk with us about any questions or concerns you have about the personal injury claims process. We are more than happy to discuss your options and help you recover both physically and financially.