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How do injuries to the spine occur in a car crash?

Injuries of all kinds happen to people involved in car accidents. Some of the more common are broken bones and head injuries. Many people also suffer spinal injuries.

Here are five types of injuries that could affect the spine in a collision.

1. Whiplash

Whiplash occurs when a sudden impact causes the head to jerk forward and backward. This is the kind of action that stretches the neck in a way that is not normal, and it will likely affect the cervical area of the spinal column. A stiff and achy neck is typical, and a person may also have pain and stiffness in the shoulders and tingling in the hands. Some people also suffer from dizziness and headaches.

2. Herniated disc

The discs between the vertebrae in the spine absorb significant force during a crash. One or more discs can shift out of alignment, compressing nerves and causing numbness or radiating pain. If the herniation is severe, the condition may require surgery.

3. Spinal fracture

Seat belts usually keep the lower body in place, but the upper body will likely experience more movement, which is when a compression fracture of the spine can occur.

4. Spondylolisthesis

This large word refers to a condition in which a vertebra shifts out of alignment because of a stress fracture. Like a herniated disc, the misaligned bone compresses nearby nerves. Treatment is often conservative care, but the issue may be severe enough to warrant surgery.

5. Spinal stenosis

According to the Mayo Clinic, outcomes such as dislocations and fractures can cause displaced bone fragments to enter or put pressure on the nerves and fluid within the spinal canal. Pressure on the spinal cord contents may also come from back surgery. The result may be spinal stenosis, or narrowing of the area inside the spine. Symptoms may include pain, numbness, tingling and weakened muscles. 

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