One of the most vulnerable parts of the human body to serious injury in an accident is the spinal cord. Injuries to the neck or back in a wide variety of accidents can cause severe and often permanent damage.
Construction site injuries on the job, like falling from a scaffold, are one kind of accident where there is a risk of spinal cord injury. Motor vehicle accidents can also result in these kinds of injuries, particularly when extreme heavy machines are involved like semi trucks or loaded tractor-trailer rigs. Pedestrian accidents and motorcycle crashes are also accidents where the risk of a severe spinal cord injury is high.
As for the highest risk of spinal cord impairment after an accident, research shows that currently motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of severe spinal cord injury, followed by falls; gunshot wounds and other forms of violence; and sporting activities.
Accident victims who suffer from an injury to their spinal cord may never be able to live their lives the same way again. They may suffer weeks or months of painful treatment and care, followed by frustrating rehabilitation and still never fully recover. Pain and suffering may be a part of their everyday life after the accident that caused damage to their spinal cord.
Sadly, spinal cord injuries often result in some level of physical impairment for the accident victim. Severe damage to the spinal cord can also result in death.
What is the Spinal Cord and Why are Spinal Cord Injuries So Serious?
Doctors refer to all the nerves that are collected and networked along your back, from the base of your spine up to the top of your neck and into your brain, as a “spinal cord.” It’s the crux of your nervous system.
All these nerves, working together in the spinal cord, communicate messages to all parts of your body from your brain. If there is an injury to these nerves, then the body’s communication system is messed up. The brain cannot properly communicate until, and unless, this injury is repaired.
Sometimes, an accident is so serious that a spinal cord nerve is cut or severed. This can happen when a sudden and sharp force (say from a fall on a construction site or in a big rig truck crash) fractures the bones in the spine and they cut one or more of these nerves in the cord. Even if there is not a cut, there can also be a tear or gash that damages the nerves here.
When an accident causes this kind of severe spinal cord injury, there is a permanent block in the communication system for the brain. Cut nerves, or damaged nerves, can no longer send signals after a certain point along the spinal cord. This results in the inability to use legs (paralysis) or both arms and legs (quadriplegia).
Skyrocketing Number of Spinal Cord injuries Reported in Older Adults
Of particular concern are the research findings released last summer that report a shocking increase in the number of spinal cord injury accidents involving older adults. Falls in accidents involving adults over the age of 60 are causing an alarming number of severe spinal cord injuries.
So much so that it’s being called a “major public health concern,” by medical experts.
“It’s not just the sheer numbers but the proportion of spinal cord injuries due to falls in this age category is also increasing,” explains Nitin B. Jain, MD, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Tennessee.
Dr. Jain is one of the authors of a study published last June in the Journal of the American Medical Association documenting this rise in the number of cases of severe spinal cord injuries in the United States since 1993. You can read the full research study here.
And most of these spinal cord injuries were the result of falls — which can happen in all sorts of ways, in all sorts of places. Falls can happen on the tennis court or golf course as well as in a shopping mall parking lot or in an office building stairwell.
Personal Injury Claims for Those Suffering Spinal Cord Injuries
In both Indiana and Illinois, there are state laws as well as court precedent (court cases) that establish all kinds of protections for people who have been seriously injured in an accident caused by another’s action or failure to act. Sometimes, federal legislation also provides protections here.
When there is a railroad accident, for instance, both federal law as well as state law work together to help the accident victim. Similarly, workers hurt on the job at a shipyard or in a mine or mill may have federal and state protections in place to help them get justice in the aftermath of a serious accident.
For spinal cord injuries, these legal protections are especially important.
No matter the kind of accident — the on the job injury; an accident while playing sports at school; a fall while attending the opera or concert or football game; etc. — the injury is the same: harm to the nerves contained in the back and neck in the “spinal cord,” where the risk is high for permanent damage.
Getting medical care for that spinal cord injury as soon as possible is vital to the long term prognosis of the accident victim. Delays of mere minutes here can mean the difference between life and death. However, we now know that other factors such as getting the spinal cord injury patient into inpatient rehabilitation as soon as possible can be vital too (see our previous post for details).
And we’re aware of new technologies that may be answered prayers to many spinal cord injury victims. Robotics like “bionic spines” and a variety of mechanical robotics may return the use of arms, legs, hands, and feet to accident victims who have lost their natural ability to walk or stand; or type or brush their hair.
The cruel reality is a tremendous amount of money will be needed for these spinal cord injury victims to be able to get the best care possible and the optimal long term care treatment after their accident.
All too often, in order to get justice, these victims (already in the fight of their lives) must gather the courage and determination to fight in a courtroom in order for those who caused their injuries to take financial responsibility for what has happened. This is why personal injury laws exist, and why personal injury lawyers fight alongside their clients.
Be careful out there!