Soft Tissue Injury
Soft tissue injuries are perhaps the most common type of motor accident injuries. Soft tissues support non-bony parts of the body and include muscles, tendons and ligaments. The force of an impact in a motor accident can cause soft tissues to overstretch considerably causing pain and discomfort, inflammation, and in some cases, loss of function.
Although a common injury, soft tissue damage is sometimes difficult to diagnose following an accident and cannot be seen using X-rays. Delayed symptoms are common as soft tissue injuries can take several days to manifest. Significant soft tissue injuries may take months and even years to treat properly leaving sufferers with long term and sometimes chronic pain and discomfort.
A ‘whiplash’ injury is a very common soft tissue injury and usually occurs in situations where the vehicle in which the injured party was travelling is rear-ended. It is caused by a sudden or excessive hyperextension and hyperflexion of the neck forwards and backwards in quick succession and produces symptoms which include pain and stiffness in the neck, shoulders, arms and lower back.
In some cases there can be secondary symptoms such as headaches, migraines, dizziness, vision problems, sleep disturbance, stress and anxiety.
Speed of impact is not necessarily a factor with studies showing that whiplash injuries can occur at relatively low speeds, even as low as 10 km per hour. Generally, whiplash injuries are expected to heal within 6-12 months. However, a large proportion of whiplash injuries can give rise to long term chronic pain and a slow recovery.
Neck and Cervical Spine
In addition to ‘whiplash’ injuries road traffic accidents can cause very serious neck and cervical spine injuries, some of which can lead to long term damage and disability. The cervical spine is the area immediately below the base of the skull where the spinal cord attaches to the brain. Even a mild trauma to the cervical spine can cause very serious injuries.
In most cases, an injury to the cervical spine is immediately apparent and may necessitate removal from the accident scene by ambulance. It is not uncommon however for a person to present with delayed symptoms, particularly if the injured party had sustained other injuries arising from an accident. If you have been involved in an accident and notice discomfort in your neck, tingling or other unusual symptoms then you should consult your doctor immediately for a medical assessment.
Lower Back and Lumbar Spine
The back and spine in particular are complex structures made up of 24 small bones as well as discs, ligaments, tendons, a spinal cord, nerves and muscles. If any of these components are damaged, back pain can result. A lower back injury can be one of the most crippling and debilitating of injuries to deal with. It can be caused by a sudden impact such as a road traffic accident and can vary from a simple strain to fractured vertebrae, sacroiliac injury (injury to joint at back of pelvis) or disc damage.
A lower back injury tends to limit movement and can take time to mend, requiring physical therapy or even surgery. In some cases a lower back injury may take weeks or even months to manifest fully and when a road traffic accident occurs, the jolt to the back can affect a pre-existing degenerative condition causing long term problems.
Serious Spinal Injury
Serious spinal injury can be catastrophic and life-changing, particularly if the spinal cord is damaged. Significant injury can be caused by a sudden trauma to the spine which fractures or dislocates one or more of the vertebrae and damages the spinal cord. The spinal cord stretches from the base of the skull down to the L1 vertebra at the top of the lower back and acts as a communication link between the brain and the rest of the body. Injury to the spinal cord can result in a loss of function and even complete paralysis. Over 35% of spinal cord injuries are caused by road traffic accidents.
Anyone that experiences a trauma to the neck or back should seek immediate medical attention to rule out the possibility of serious injury. Rehabilitation from a serious spinal injury can be a very difficult and expensive process and cause considerable hardship. It is important to ensure that if a spinal injury was caused by the negligence of another party that you are properly compensated.
Road traffic accidents are acknowledged as the single largest cause of head injuries. The HSE, in a study published in 2011, noted that 31% of people admitted to hospital with road traffic collision related injuries were diagnosed with head injury as the principal injury. Road traffic accidents can cause very serious head injuries, particularly for those more vulnerable to injury such as cyclists, pedestrians and unrestrained passengers. Concussion is common in relatively minor accidents and significant impacts can cause skull fracture, bleeding of the brain, coma and paralysis, speech problems, memory loss and diminished capacity.
In some cases, a head injury may not be immediately obvious after an accident so it is always prudent to seek medical attention if you have been involved in a collision. Symptoms of brain injury for instance can be slow to manifest and it is important to have it noted in medical records that the patient had a history of head trauma from a road traffic accident.
Fractures and Broken Bones
Fractured or broken bones are a common injury caused by road traffic accidents. Even medium impact collisions exert a tremendous amount of force and can cause fractures to limbs, ribs, sternum, as well as dislocation to hips and shoulders.
Wrist and ankle fractures can take a considerable length of time to heal properly. These types of injury can range from a simple break to multiple fractures which several months to heal correctly and in some cases may require corrective surgery. Motorbike riders and cyclists are particularly at risk of sustaining a fracture but it is not uncommon for motorists to receive fractures to the patella (knee), shoulder or pelvis for instance.
The impact felt in a road traffic accident may not be just physical. A person’s quality of life may also be affected, including mental health. The psychological effects of an accident should never be taken for granted. It is not uncommon for persons involved in an accident to subsequently experience feelings of fear and anxiety, particularly when travelling by car. Disturbed sleep patterns are also common along with feelings of helplessness and even depression.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder than can be triggered by an event where there was a real prospect of physical harm occurring, such as in a motor accident. The condition can be very disabling and last well beyond physical recovery from injuries sustained in the accident. Symptoms include sleep disturbance, depression, flashbacks of the ordeal, intense anxiety, irritability and anger. The symptoms usually develop within a few months of the event but can last for several years in some cases, particularly if not treated. If you have suffered psychological trauma arising from a road traffic accident, it is important to discuss the matter with you doctor as soon as possible.
If you wish to discuss a potential claim or would like advice on any matter, please Contact Us for a consultation.
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