Motorcycle Accident Neck and Back Injuries

Motorcycle Accident Neck and Back Injuries

Few things are as terrifying as paralysis. Second only to head injuries, permanent or full-body paralysis are one of the worst that can happen to motorcycle riders. Since the spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body, any damage to the neck or back can result in loss of normal motion or mobility. According to the road accident studies, neck injuries happen in 22% of motorcycle crash incidents in the US. 

Possible Injuries in the Neck and Spine Region

Paralysis is one of the worst possible outcomes of a neck or spine injury. Other injuries that can occur in this region include:

Whiplash – This happens when the neck is suddenly stretched beyond normal limits, such as during a rear end impact or sudden stop collision. Whiplash manifests as a sore or stick neck, loss of balance, vertigo, dizziness, or headache.

Herniated discs – Vertebral discs are responsible for holding the neck in place as well as its movement. They may be dislocated during a violent impact, resulting in severe pain while moving.

Vertebrae fracture – Vertebrae are the 33 bones that make up the spinal column. A hairline crack or fracture in one can put the whole spine at risk, and require surgery before the person can be safely mobile again.

Soft tissue trauma – Apart from the vertebrae, soft tissues can also be damaged in the event of a motorcycle accident. These include the neck and shoulder muscles, nerves, tendons and ligaments. An injury in any one of these areas can cause pain and limit a person’s movement.

Paralysis – This refers to the loss of muscle function in certain parts of the body. Depending on the severity of the injury, it can be partial or full-body, and either temporary or in the worst case scenario, permanent. There are four types of generalized paralysis:

  • Monoplegia: paralysis of one arm or leg
  • Hemiplegia: affects both an arm and leg, typically on the same side
  • Paraplegia: affects both legs
  • Quadriplegia: Loss of motor function in all four limbs

The High Cost of a Neck or Back Injury

Because neck and back injuries are commonly associated with loss of motor function, their toll goes beyond medical expenses. The additional costs can extend to lost wages, pain and suffering, long-term rehabilitation, or life-long care as a result of disability or immobility.

According to one NHTSA study, neck and back injuries account for about 15% of motorcycle crash victims in rehabilitation. Of the ones in acute rehabilitation, spinal cord injuries were the second largest cause, just behind traumatic brain injury. They also required the longest hospital stay.

Some other facts:

  • 10% of victims required surgery
  • Nearly 20% were left with permanent complications 
  • About 10% of riders who suffered a spinal cord injury died.

What Happens After an Accident Resulting in Spine Injury?

  1. If there is any risk that the person may have suffered a spinal injury, they should avoid all movement or being moved by other people unless absolutely necessary. The EMT will use a neck or back brace to avoid exacerbating any injuries during transport to the hospital.
  2. Once in the ER, any open wounds will be treated with antibiotics, and a steroid will be administered to reduce swelling of the central nervous system caused by a broken spine.
  3. The victim will then undergo an X-ray, CT or MRI scan to examine the brain and spinal cord.
  4. Depending on the results of the scan, surgery may be required. This applies in cases of bone fractures, torn ligaments and tendons, herniated discs, hematoma, or compression of the spine.
  5. After surgery comes the rehabilitation. In severe cases, physical therapy could last months or years to try to restore mobility, manage chronic pain and return the person’s normal range of motion.

The Link Between Helmets and Spinal Injuries

A popular belief is that helmet use can contribute to neck injuries in the event of an accident. This is false.

In fact, multiple studies have shown that helmets can minimize neck injuries when properly worn.

  • A 5-year clinical study of 1,061 motorcyclists involved in a crash found that helmeted riders were 2x less likely to incur a spine injury compared to non-helmeted ones. They also had a much lower injury severity score, less cervical spine fractures, and fewer torn ligaments.
  • In another study by Australian researchers, 85% of helmets involved in a crash sustained damage, but less than 25% of riders suffered a head or neck injury. There were no clear links between helmet use and the risk of neck injury. 

The inability to move or perform even basic functions can be a life-long nightmare for a rider who actively enjoys life and revels in the open road. For victims of a neck or back injury, the road to rehabilitation can be long and hard. 

In such cases, it’s highly advisable to get a lawyer that specializes in motorcycle accidents. A dedicated motorcycle crash lawyer can take care of the legal proceedings, coordinate with insurance, and negotiate with the liable party, so you can focus on getting well and hopefully back on the road. 

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