What impact does a cervical spine injury have on car accident survivors? What makes these injuries more dangerous than other spinal cord injuries? The neck is designed to bend and flex, however, the vertebrae can crack or break when hyperextension, hyperflexion, or excessive rotation occurs. This can cause severe pain, paralysis, or death because the nerves contained within the eight cervical vertebrae control motor functions and sensory ability.
From 2005-2012, 39% of all spinal cord injuries were caused by automobile accidents. Of those suffering spinal injuries in accidents, 41% suffer incomplete tetraplegia which causes partial damage to the spinal column. This leaves the patient with some sensation and motor function. 22% suffer complete paraplegia which is the total loss of sensation or motor control over the legs.
The C1,C2, C3, and C4 vertebrae allow movement of the neck and head. Minor injury to these vertebrae is often called whiplash and can diminish the individual's range of motion, causing significant discomfort until it heals. Severe injury to these vertebrae, specifically the core of the spine called the foramina, can be life-threatening as the nerves within this region are responsible for controlling respiratory function. Damage to these nerves can cause total paralysis and require the individual to use a respirator to survive.
The C5, C6, C7, and C8 vertebrae control the movement of the shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers. Damage to the nerves within the foramina here can result in total loss of function and loss of sensation. Even following surgery, there is almost always a permanent loss of sensation and diminished capacity to control arms, hands, legs, and feet.
The severity of the injury determines the course of treatment. Physicians utilize the Subaxial Cervical Spine Injury score to determine whether surgery, traction, or other treatments are most appropriate. Points are assigned based on whether there is loss of range of motion, fractures or bone fragments present, dislocated vertebrae, or damage to the nerves. For cervical spine injuries with a score of four or greater, surgery is often required to save the patient's life.
Cervical spine injuries are among the most costly injuries to treat following an automobile accident. Expenses for patients suffering total paralysis can come in at more than $1 million for the first year, and just over $177,000 in every following year. For a 25 year old, this means more than $4.5 million in lifetime care costs. For an injury that causes paraplegia, the first year expenses are roughly $500,000 with following years costing roughly $66,000 to treat. If the individual is 25 at the time of the injury, that adds up to more than $2.2 million over the course of an average lifetime.
Compounding the financial burden of care is the fact that severe spinal injuries have a significant impact on the individual's ability to work and their lifetime earning capacity. In 2009, 57% of individuals suffering severe spinal injuries were employed at the time of their injury. One year following an accident, fewer than 12% are able to continue working. However, as the years pass, many individuals with severe spinal injuries do return to work and at the 20-year mark, roughly 35% are employed.
Brad Pistotnik Law represents car accident survivors in Topeka, Wichita, Kansas City, Hays, and elsewhere in Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Illinois, and Missouri who have experienced cervical spine injuries. Our office helps clients recover compensation to recover from their injuries including medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering as well as accurately forecasting their long-term care expenses.
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