Spinal Injuries From Car Accidents: Types, Treatment, and Complications

Woman in wheelchair - Spinal Injuries From Car Accidents

There is no denying that when tons of metal and fiberglass collide, the outcome is often violent and traumatic. Unfortunately, car accidents are among the leading causes of spinal cord injuries in the United States today, leaving thousands of people injured.

At Finz & Finz, P.C., we want to help you understand the different types of spinal cord injuries that can occur following a car accident and the complications that may result from an SCI.

A spinal cord injury dramatically changes a person’s life, often permanently. When a careless driver’s actions lead to a spinal cord injury, you may be entitled to recover meaningful compensation for your injuries. However, the road to financial recovery can be long and challenging without the help of an experienced and knowledgeable New York car accident attorney.

What Constitutes a Spinal Cord Injury?

The spine comprises multiple vertebrae, or bones that protect a thick bundle of nerves known as the spinal cord. The spinal cord runs from the base of the brain down to the tailbone and is responsible for transmitting messages between the brain and the rest of the body. These messages control everything from motor function to sensory perception and even involuntary muscle movements that control breathing and organ function.

spinal cord injury or SCI occurs when the spinal cord is damaged. One of the most common causes of spinal cord injuries is physical trauma, like car accidents. Damage to this bundle of nerves can cause temporary or permanent damage to numerous body parts and may result in loss of sensation, motor function, strength, and bodily functions.

Types of Spinal Cord Injuries

There are two main classifications of spinal cord injury. These types of SCI include:

  • Incomplete – An incomplete spinal cord injury means the spinal cord suffers damage to the point where sensory perception and motor function may be affected, but the spinal cord can still transmit messages to and from the brain.
  • Complete – In a complete spinal cord injury, the spinal cord’s nerves are severed or damaged to the point where messages can no longer travel between the brain and the rest of the body. Complete spinal cord injuries result in the complete loss of sensation and function below the point of injury and are permanent.

The ability to sense and control limbs following an SCI depends on the severity of the injury and the location of the injury. You can further define a spinal cord injury by its location on the spine.

  • Cervical – Cervical vertebrae protect the spinal cord in the neck. A complete injury in this area typically results in paralysis of all four limbs and the loss of function of the pelvic organs. The ability to breathe may also be affected.
  • Thoracic – The 12 vertebrae beneath the cervical area are called thoracic vertebrae. They protect the spinal cord in the upper back.
  • Lumbar – The five vertebrae in the lower back make up the lumbar region.
  • Sacral – The five sacral vertebrae are also known collectively as the tailbone. These fused bones protect the tail end of the spinal cord.

Although an SCI can lead to several debilitating medical conditions, the two most common forms of paralysis that result from a complete spinal cord injury include:

  • Paraplegia – Paraplegia is the complete loss of motor function and sensation of the lower body, typically the lower trunk, legs, and pelvic organs.
  • Quadriplegia – Quadriplegia, sometimes called tetraplegia, is the loss of function and sensation of all four limbs. Although most people see paralysis as the loss of motor function in the arms and legs, quadriplegia also impacts the function of several organs, including the lungs, bowel, and bladder.

Treatment Options for Spinal Cord Injuries

You must never move a person with a suspected spinal cord injury. Call emergency services if you are involved in a car accident and suspect you or someone close to you has a spinal cord injury. Emergency personnel receive specific training to limit a patient’s movement and prevent further damage to the spinal cord.

The treatment options for a spinal cord injury vary depending on the location and severity of the injury. Medical professionals often use diagnostic tools like X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans to assess the damage to the spinal cord, vertebrae, and surrounding tissues. Surgery is sometimes needed to stabilize broken bones and to remove sharp bone fragments from the area to prevent further damage. Surgery may also help relieve pressure on the injured area.

Those with incomplete spinal cord injuries may be able to regain some motor function and sensation following a traumatic accident through medical intervention, physical therapy, and rehabilitation. However, complete spinal cord injuries are permanent. Currently, there is no way to repair damaged or severed spinal nerves, and the spinal cord cannot regenerate.

Complications of Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injuries can dramatically impact a person’s quality of life and lead to numerous life-long complications. Some of the most common complications involving SCIs include:

  • Changes in circulation
  • Changes in respiratory function
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Depression
  • Inability to regulate body temperature
  • Loss of bone density
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control
  • Loss of muscle tone
  • Loss of sexual function
  • Low blood pressure
  • Pain
  • Paralysis
  • Phantom limb sensation
  • Pneumonia and breathing problems
  • Pressure injuries like bed sores and skin infections
  • Uncontrollable high blood pressure

Spinal Cord Injury Statistics

The New York Department of Health indicates approximately 1,100 New York residents suffer traumatic spinal cord injuries annually. They also estimate nearly 288,000 people in the U.S. are living with paralysis. Paralysis is a life-altering medical condition that doesn’t just impact a person physically. A paralysis diagnosis can profoundly affect a person’s mental health and financial stability.

The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation shows the lifetime costs associated with a paraplegia diagnosis can reach over $2 million. The lifetime costs associated with quadriplegia can result in treatment costs as high as $5 million.  

Contact an Experienced New York Car Accident Today

Was your spinal cord injury the result of a car accident caused by a careless New York driver? A speedy insurance settlement may not be enough to account for your significant financial losses and dramatic change in quality of life. The experienced legal team at Finz & Finz, P.C. wants to help you recover the compensation you deserve.

Contact our New York office today at (855) TOP-FIRM to arrange for a free case evaluation and learn more about your legal rights.


  • About the Author
  • Latest Posts

Finz & Finz, P.C. is a New York and Long Island personal injury law firm based out of Mineola, NY. It was founded in 1984 and is highly rated, with many honors and awards of excellence.