People often jokingly refer to inconveniences or things that are somewhat irritating as being a “pain in the neck.” In truth, however, an actual “pain in the neck” can be quite serious and is no joking matter. Even a seemingly minor neck injury can cause severe pain, interfere with your everyday activities, and require costly long-term treatments. Catastrophic neck injuries may lead to full or partial paralysis, but whiplash and other soft-tissue damage can be debilitating in their own right. With certain neck injuries, the pain and discomfort are not limited to the neck, but actually radiate to other parts of the body.
Understanding the potentially lifelong consequences of a neck injury is important – particularly if you or a loved one has suffered such an injury.
What are the most serious neck injuries?
Neck injuries can run the gamut from serious to relatively minor. Any injury to the bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, nerves, or tendons in the neck can cause severe pain and limit the injured person’s range of motion. Even a neck injury that initially appears to be minor may require surgery and expensive, ongoing treatment. The most common types of serious neck injuries include:
- Broken neck. More accurately described as a fractured cervical spine, a broken neck is one of the most serious traumatic injuries to the neck. The cervical spine is the area of the spinal column or backbone located in the neck. It includes the first seven bones in the spinal column. A broken neck may be limited to fractures of the bones in the neck or it may include damage to the nerves of the spinal cord. A broken neck requires immediate medical attention to stabilize the neck and spinal column, and may require one or more surgeries to heal.
- Spinal cord injuries (SCI). The most serious neck injuries typically involve the spinal cord. The portion of the spinal cord located in the neck area is known as the cervical spine and injuries here can be especially dangerous. This is because severe injury to the spinal cord can result in temporary or permanent paralysis. The paralysis may be full or partial, depending on the severity and location of the injury, as the person may lose motor function and sensation in any area below the injury site. Full, or complete paralysis, means that the person has lost all feeling and movement below the lowest effected part of the spine. With partial paralysis, the injured person may have some feeling and body movement below the injury. The two types of paralysis are:
- Quadriplegia – Also referred to as tetraplegia, quadriplegia is a type of paralysis that affects the arms, hands, trunk, legs, and pelvic organs. A person with quadriplegia has no sensation and cannot move any body parts below their neck.
- Paraplegia – With paraplegia, all or part of the injured person’s trunk, legs, and pelvic organs are affected. However, their upper body, including their arms and hands, are unaffected.
- Slipped or herniated disks. In the spinal column, the vertebrae – or bones of the spine – are separated by rubbery cushions called disks. Sometimes described as being similar to a jelly doughnut, the Mayo Clinic describes spinal disks as having a “soft, jellylike center (nucleus) encased in a tougher, rubbery exterior (annulus).” A herniated disk occurs when the annulus tears and some of the nucleus pushes out. This is also known as a slipped or ruptured disk, and the result can be extreme pain that is not limited to the neck. Depending on the location and severity of the herniation, a herniated cervical disk can put pressure on nerves that run down into the arms and hands, causing a tingling sensation sometimes referred to as pins and needles, and impacting the use and range of motion in the affected arm and hand. Treatment may include surgery to repair the disk, or injections to control the pain and help reduce any swelling. Alternative treatments such as acupuncture and chiropractic care may also help with pain management.
- Whiplash and other soft-tissue damage. At first glance it may seem like whiplash and other soft-tissue damage are not serious injuries. Whiplash is a common injury after an accident and many people who suffer whiplash recover within a few weeks without any long-lasting effects. However, this is not always the case. In fact, whiplash and other soft-tissue damage can cause severe, debilitating pain that lasts for month or even years after the injury. Patients may require surgery or physical therapy to help manage the pain.
The ongoing pain of a serious neck injury
Any serious neck injury can leave the injured person suffering for days, weeks, months, and even years after the incident that caused the injury. Depending on the type of injury and the severity, surgeries, ongoing physical and occupational therapy, medication, and other long-term care may be required. Someone who is paralyzed, for example, may have to learn new ways to do everyday tasks such as getting dressed, feeding themselves, and doing household chores. They may be unable to perform certain tasks without assistance and may be unable to return to certain physical activities they enjoyed before being injured. In some cases, a person who suffers paralysis may be unable to return to the job they held before the were injured, especially if it was a physically-demanding role.
Those are the worst-case scenarios. Even a seemingly minor neck injury can leave a patient in constant pain, suffering from limited range of motion, and force them to adjust how they perform common tasks. For example, driving can be challenging for someone suffering from whiplash or a herniated cervical disk, as they may be unable to fully turn their head in one direction or the other. Or, they may not be able to do so as quickly as necessary in order to drive safely. Even sleeping can be a challenge, as finding a comfortable position when suffering a neck injury can seem impossible. Lying down and sitting up, getting into and out of bed, or simply sitting still in an upright position can all be uncomfortable or downright painful. The near constant discomfort and lack of sleep may lead to exhaustion that only makes the injured person feel worse – physically, mentally, and emotionally.
What are the most common causes of neck injuries?
Neck injuries can occur during almost any type of accident; however, the most common causes of neck injuries are:
- Car crashes
- Truck collisions
- Motorcycle crashes
- Recreational vehicle accidents
- Railroad accidents
- Farm accidents
If you or a loved one suffered a neck injury in an accident that was caused by someone else’s negligence, it is important that you consult an experienced Minot personal injury attorney as soon as possible. A serious neck injury can cause untold pain and suffering for you and your family – physically, mentally, emotionally, and even financially as the costs of immediate and ongoing treatment and care can be exorbitant and are not always covered by insurance. A Minot personal injury lawyer who understands the long-term consequences of a serious neck injury, like the accident attorneys at Larson Law Firm, P.C., can help. From our offices in Minot, Fargo and Bismarck, we fight to ensure the person or entity responsible for your neck injury is held accountable, and that you receive the full compensation you deserve. You do not have to bear this burden alone. Call us at 701-484-HURT or complete our contact form today to schedule a free consultation. We handle accident cases on a contingency fee basis.
Mark Larson is a Certified Civil Trial Specialist and Certified Civil Pre-Trial Specialist focusing on personal injury, motor vehicle, wrongful death, and oil field claims. Since 1979, Larson Law Firm has served the injured throughout North Dakota. Read more about Mark V. Larson