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Treating Back Injuries from Car Accidents

Now that we’ve discussed symptoms of common spine injuries from car accidents and the treatment of neck injuries, let’s talk about how we treat back injuries.

It should be noted that symptoms of back injuries are not always present immediately following the injury. If you experience any back pain after a car accident, it is always a good idea to get checked out by a physician immediately. The earlier treatment for an injury begins, the quicker you can recover.

Spinal Fractures

Spinal fractures resulting from a car accident typically occur in the mid to low back. If a fracture is suspected, EMS workers will need to immobilize the injured person with a backboard and cervical neck collar before moving the patient. The fractured bones can press on the spinal cord and lead to a spinal cord injury, so it is very important to immobilize and support the spine before moving the injured person. In addition to a physical exam, a physician conducts imaging tests to pinpoint the location of the injury and neurological tests to determine whether there is a spinal cord or nerve injury.

Treatment of a spinal fracture depends on the type and severity of the fracture. More stable fractures, like compression fractures, can often be treated by having the patient wear a brace for 6 to 12 weeks, gradually increasing activity, and doing exercises that help with rehabilitation. Extension fractures may also be treated with a cast or brace if the bones can be fit back together. However, if the fracture results in instability, surgery will likely be necessary.

The goal of surgery is to fit the bones back together, relieve any pressure on the spinal cord and nerves, and stabilize the spine. A decompression, or laminectomy, may be performed to remove any bone or other spinal structures that are compressing the spinal cord and nerves. Metal screws, rods, and cages may be used to help hold the spine in a stable position. Whether or not surgery is necessary, rehabilitation is a major part of a patient’s recovery process.


A stress fracture in one of the vertebrae, called spondylolysis, can lead to a vertebra shifting out of place. This condition is known as spondylolisthesis. This type of injury can result from hyperextension of the spine, and if there is severe slippage, the spinal cord or nerves may be compressed.

Initial treatment for spondylolisthesis is generally nonsurgical. Patients are generally advised to avoid activities that cause back pain while the spine heals. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen can help to reduce back pain. In some cases, a doctor may recommend a back brace to help support the spine as it heals, and exercises may be recommended to help stretch and strengthen the back and abdominal muscles.

If the slippage is severe or worsening, surgery may be needed. A spinal fusion may be performed to fuse the bones together, and screws and rods may be used to hold the bones in place.

Pulled Muscles in the Back

Muscle sprains and strains are common among those who have been in a car accident. Most sprains and strains will resolve within three to four weeks with the proper treatment. For pain and muscle spasms, over-the-counter pain medication, anti-inflammatory medication, or muscle relaxers may be recommended. Cold packs can also be helpful to reduce inflammation, and heat therapy can help to relax the muscles and stimulate blood flow to the injured area to help with healing.

Managing pain and inflammation also helps you to perform back exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles. While many patients’ first inclination is to avoid use of painful muscles, this can actually weaken the muscles that support the back and may cause more pain. Performing the recommended exercises can help to reduce tightness in the muscles and help strengthen the supporting muscles.

The most important part of recovering from a car accident injury is to seek treatment immediately and follow all instructions given to you by your doctor. These instructions can make a big difference in your recovery time.