Our spine is one of the most protected parts of our body, shielded by layers of bones and discs that cushion this delicate area. Yet, in a car accident, our spine can be one of the most susceptible body parts to injury. Injuries involving spinal cord damage can range from minor to catastrophically life-altering.
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The Anatomy of the Spine
To understand how spinal cord injuries are treated, it helps to understand the anatomy of the spine. Most of us have seen pictures of the spine, which usually looks like a bunch of interconnected bones. These are bony vertebrae, which protect the spinal column. Between the bones are jelly-like discs, which cushion each vertebra.
The delicate spine itself runs through these discs and vertebrae, which means impact that is so strong that it forces the vertebrae or the discs into the spine, can damage the spinal column and the nerves that send signals from the brain to the body.
The spine does not have to be completely severed in order for paralysis to occur. However, spinal cord damage that bruises or damages nerve cells but which does not sever the spine, can also cause paralysis. Even the loss of oxygen or release of chemicals by the body that occur after a serious injury can damage nerve cells, and thus cause injury to the spine.
Like any injury, the area of damage to the spine will cause swelling. In some cases, the swelling presses on the spinal column which means that after a few days when the swelling subsides, some function may return to the paralyzed areas. Sometimes, it may be months and even years before some function or control returns to paralyzed parts of the body.
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How the Spine Is Injured in an Accident
There are many ways that a spinal cord can be damaged in an accident. In any impact in which one car hits another car, there are tremendous and sudden forces exerted on the bodies inside those vehicles. Unfortunately, because of the way many car seats are designed, not every part of our body is protected from the impact.
Parts that are not supported or protected, such as our head, can be thrust violently backward or sideways in an accident as our bodies go forward from the impact, causing serious damage to the spinal cord. In accidents in which cars overturn, the roof of a vehicle may collapse in on a driver or passenger’s head, pushing the spinal column beyond where it was designed to go.
These are injuries that happen when a person is inside the car. Our head and spine are even more vulnerable in accidents where we are thrown from the vehicle. A head can be thrust through a window, damaging the spine, or someone ejected from a vehicle may land on his or her head, forcing the head downward, severing the spinal column.
What Kinds of Accidents Cause Damage to the Spinal Cord?
Spinal cord injuries often happen in catastrophic accidents, and accidents that occur when vehicles are traveling at higher than legal speeds. Pedestrians, unprotected by the steel exterior of a vehicle, are especially vulnerable to spinal cord damage when hit by a car.
Collisions between vehicles with drastically differing weights, such as a car that hits a motorcycle, or a commercial truck that hits a car, can lead to accidents that cause paralysis.
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Different Kinds of Paralysis
Paralysis is not an “all or nothing” injury. In some cases, spinal cord damage will lead to what is known as an incomplete injury. An incomplete spinal injury leaves a victim with some level of control and function below the level of the injury, and with continued therapy and medical care, the level of function may increase over time.
That therapy is vital, as doctors now know that the longer that a spinal cord injury victim goes without improvement, the less likely it will be that the victim will ever improve at all. Thus, even therapy that provides slow, incremental improvement, is still invaluable.
There are different levels of paralysis, depending on where the spine is damaged. For example, damage to or above the C3 vertebrae may require the victim to be placed on a ventilator for breathing. An injury just one vertebra below, at the c4 level, will allow a victim to have some shoulder and neck movement (although all four limbs will still be paralyzed). Just a few vertebrae down at c6, a victim will maintain some wrist function, allowing for certain movements (although there may still be a loss of function in the hand).
Paralysis is the most feared result of spinal cord damage, but depending on severity, a victim can also suffer respiratory problems, infections, ulcers, loss of sensation, cardiovascular disease, or loss of bowel or bladder control.
Medical Bills and Costs After Spinal Cord Injury
Because paralysis can be significant and life-altering, the medical bills and costs associated with paralysis can be extraordinarily high—sometimes into the millions. In fact, an expert may need to be employed by your spinal cord injury lawyer to provide an analysis of what the lifetime treatment costs maybe for people who are paralyzed. For example, the lifetime costs of home modifications, special education, treatment for secondary diseases, or in-home care can be accurately calculated by a life care plan expert.
Canada’s insurance system provides benefits for those in an accident, but victims of spinal cord damage may need to look to the negligent driver that caused the accident, for additional damages.
These additional damages can include pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, depression, anxiety, and any other damage that cannot be counted or quantified. These damages can also include lost wages, which can be significant since in most cases, someone paralyzed in an accident (especially from the neck down) is unable to ever return to work and any other health care expenses that are not covered by the accident benefits system.
Make sure you have lawyers that understand how to present your injuries and damages to an insurance company or a court. The Pickering spinal cord damage and possible paralysis lawyers at Preszler Law Firm can help you recover insurance benefits and often recover damages. Call us today to discuss your injuries and your accident.