Can a Minor Car Accident Cause Serious Back Injuries?

Oct 10, 2021

While a car accident is never fun, some are more serious than others. You may be sitting at a red light or stop sign when you feel a car hit your back bumper, causing some dents and a lot of inconvenience, but nothing dramatic. Because this is a minor accident, you may wonder if any physical symptoms are even tied to the event, and if so, how severe they can really be. Unfortunately, even the most minor accident can have serious complications for you, including back injuries that require the care of a car accident doctor.

Understanding the Spine

One of the reasons your back is susceptible to injury during a minor accident is because of how complex and fragile the structure is. Rather than a single bone, the spine is made up of multiple sections and materials.

The spine has five sections:

  • Cervical: the seven vertebrae between your head and shoulders
  • Thoracic: twelve vertebrae in your mid-back, which support your ribs
  • Lumbar: the five vertebrae in your lower back
  • Sacrum: fused vertebrae that connect your spine with your hips
  • Coccyx: your tailbone

Each of these sections supports your body and transports messages throughout your nervous system, including to the brain. Within these sections, various tissues and structures exist, including:

  • Vertebrae, the interlocking bones that form your spinal column
  • Discs, or gel-like cushions that sit between your vertebrae and act as shock absorbers
  • The spinal cord, a complicated bundle of neurons that transmits messages between your brain and body
  • Spinal nerves, 31 pairs of nerves that branch off of your spinal cord to communicate with specific body parts
  • Ligaments, a fibrous band of tissues that holds your spine together and protects it

Many of the spaces that contain nerves and soft tissue are very narrow, so any mild irritation like swelling can cause serious dysfunction. With so many parts at play, it’s no wonder that even a very minor car crash can cause catastrophic back injuries.

Types of Back Injuries

During the impact of a crash, your body experiences many forces at one time- acceleration, deceleration, rotation, and others, all of which can cause damage to the body.

The neck is one area of the spine that is particularly vulnerable, as rapid acceleration and deceleration cause the neck to whip forward and backward quickly, injuring the soft tissue in your neck. This condition is known as whiplash and can cause neck and shoulder pain, headaches, and back pain. While whiplash is often temporary, it can also become a chronic condition that impacts the rest of your spine.

Sprains, strains, fractures, and herniated discs are all common injuries throughout the entire spine. Some may heal quickly, while others are serious enough to sometimes require surgery. Spondylolisthesis, when a vertebra slips out of alignment, is another condition that often leads to surgical repair. All of these can happen with even the mildest rear-ending event.

Pre-Existing Conditions

A very minor accident can also aggravate conditions that have been lying dormant in your spine. Many people have the beginnings of degenerative disc disease and won’t be aware until the impact of their wreck causes a bulge in those discs, leading to severe pain.

Conditions like spinal stenosis can also be exacerbated or brought on by a crash. In this disease, the spinal canal narrows over time, but trauma to the body can cause the process to speed up and cause problems all at once, much earlier than they would have otherwise.

While these conditions are not entirely caused by the accident, that trauma may be what causes them to become problematic or worsen in ways they would not have otherwise.

The Importance of Early Treatment

With any car accident, it is critical to seek treatment as early as possible. Even if you do not have any symptoms, the beginnings of a serious back injury can be brewing. A car accident doctor will be able to do a full evaluation of your spine to determine any injuries that may be present and what the best path is to repair those issues.

If you wait to visit the car accident doctor until symptoms appear, the problem could already have worsened, making chances of a full recovery lower. These doctors will be able to rule out life-threatening conditions early on and create customized care plans based on your back’s needs.

At AICA Marietta, we specialize in injuries that result from car accidents, big or small. Contact us today to schedule your first appointment!