Back pain after a car accident is one of the most common injuries that can occur. During a car accident, the back, especially the lower back, is put under tremendous strain with these dynamic forces. The trunk and back are at high risk for injury during deceleration. The seat belt, airbags, and other safety measures help save lives but can cause other injuries to the spine.
What Can You Do for Your Back Pain After a Car Accident?
Depending on the cause of the pain, there are various treatment options to help improve back pain after a car accident. Interventional pain and spine physicians can diagnose and treat these injuries often without the need for surgical procedures. However, it is essential to seek medical attention within 14 days of your accident to ensure care and help coordinate insurance coverage. Our team can help, and we have appointments available within 48-hours or less. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.
We have also compiled a list of the most commonly asked questions to help every patient figure out their next steps after a car accident. These questions are important when you are starting your search and will help you find the correct provider for your situation.
Common Causes of Back Pain After a Car Accident
Before reviewing treatment options, it is important to understand the most common causes of back pain after a vehicle accident.
Whiplash and Soft Tissue Injuries
The most common term used to describe back pain after a car accident is whiplash. This is not a specific medical diagnosis. Rather, it helps describe common symptoms after a high-velocity spine injury. Commonly car accidents result in muscle spasms, sprains, and strains. These are typically characterized by muscle tenderness and a decreased ability to bend or rotate the spine. Injuries to the ligaments, tendons, fascia, or connective tissues are common after a car accident. The stretching or tearing of these structures can cause pain and, in severe cases, instability of the spine.
Facet Joint Injuries
The joints of the back, known as the facet joints, are commonly injured during a car accident. These joints allow for movement; however, they are susceptible to damage most commonly when the back is forced into hyperextension, such as rear-ended. Injury to these joints results in back pain. In some cases, the pain may radiate into the buttock region.
Sacroiliac Joint Inflammation
The sacroiliac joint or SI joint is a small joint that connects your spine, pelvis, and hips. This joint, similar to any joint in the body, can become inflamed. Inflammation of this joint is common after a car accident. Patients may have pain in the lower back below the beltline.
Damage to the intervertebral discs can occur after a car accident. Terms like a slipped disc, herniated disc, or bulging disc all refer to this structure’s damage. This damage can result in Back pain and leg pain known as radiculopathy or sciatica if the disc leaks or contacts an adjacent nerve.
Compression fractures of the vertebral bodies of the spine are common and can cause significant pain. These fractures commonly occur in the lower back at locations where mobile portions of the spine connect to fixed parts of the spine. Most of the time, these fractures do not result in nerve injury but result in significant pain.
Treatments for Back Pain After a Car Accident
When you cannot see a provider quickly, home remedies might provide the pain relief you seek for back pain after a car accident.
Heat decreases stiffness, improves tissue flexibility, increases blood flow to injured tissue. Hot packs, heating pads, paraffin baths, whirlpool baths, or saunas are all examples of ways of using heat to improve pain. We typically recommend 30 minutes of treatment followed by a break of at least 30 minutes. This can be used throughout the day.
Massage treatments can also improve pain and range of motion of the spine after a car accident. Massage therapy relieves muscle tension, reduces pain, and improves circulation. Theracane, home massage device, or massage are all good options to aid with relief.
Low impact exercise can aid with improving back pain after a car accident as well as mood. Low impact exercises have been shown to decrease acute and chronic pain long-term. Exercise reduces joint stiffness, improves strength, and lubricates joints. Walking, pool exercise, Tai Chi, and yoga are good options for decreasing pain and improving function.
A TENS unit is a small device that can be purchased over the counter or obtained via a medical provider. A TENS unit sends small painless electrical signals through the skin using an adhesive patch. These signals help interrupt painful nerve firing and decrease muscle spasms.
Physical therapy under the guidance of a licensed therapist can be a helpful way of improving back pain after a car accident. Often physical therapy can aid with stretching and strengthening of injured back muscles and soft tissues. Therapy aids with regaining loss of movement and function in a structured, safe environment to decrease healing and recovery time.
Chiropractic care and spinal manipulation are effective for acute and subacute pain. Chiropractic care can help realign the spinal segments and restore normal movement. Spinal manipulation is also an effective option for headaches after a car accident.
Medications can be used to treat back pain after a car accident. These medications are typically used in conjunction with other therapies and injections to accelerate healing and relief.
Anti-inflammatory medications such as prescription-strength ibuprofen, Mobic, or Celebrex can be used to decrease swelling and tissue inflammation after injury.
Muscle spasms medications such as Flexeril, baclofen, and tizanidine can help to improve range of motion and help improve sleep after sustaining a back injury.
Nerve pain medications including gabapentin, Lyrica, or Topamax are commonly used to slow abnormal nerve activity after an injury. These medications can aid with pain from pinched nerves and/or headaches.
Trigger Point Injections
Trigger points are described as tender points, spasms, or hyperirritable areas in the muscles. Patients typically can feel the trigger points as nodules that are painful to pressure. The most common locations for trigger points are the neck, upper and low back. Trigger point injections are quick injections performed at locations to provide rapid relief and decrease pain and muscle spasms.
Facet Injections, Medial Branch Blocks, and Radiofrequency Ablation
The joints of the back are called facet joints. These joints have a small nerve called the medial branch nerve, which sends pain signals from the back to the brain. Back pain after a car accident commonly results from degeneration or injury within the facet joints. Pain is often felt on either side of the spine at the affected levels and results in pain in the hips, buttocks, and thighs. Lumbar facet blocks, lumbar medial branch blocks, and lumbar facet joint injections are terms made to describe similar procedures. This pain is treated with medial branch nerve blocks, radiofrequency ablation, and facet injections.
Epidural Steroid Injections
Epidural steroid injections are intended to treat multiple causes of both back and leg pain. Common conditions treated with epidural steroid injections include: “pinched nerves,” radiculopathy, and herniated or bulging discs. An epidural steroid injection is an injection of a potent anti-inflammatory medication into the epidural space of the back using x-ray guidance. The epidural space is an area of the body where the spinal nerves are located and often are inflamed, resulting in significant pain and sometimes weakness. The steroid medication provides an anti-inflammatory effect to reduce pain, nerve swelling, and irritation.
Sacroiliac Joint Injections
A sacroiliac joint injection uses x-ray guidance to place an anti-inflammatory medication directly into the sacroiliac joint. This procedure can provide rapid pain relief for inflamed SI joints.
Sacroplasty and Kyphoplasty
Sacroplasty and kyphoplasty are both used to treat compression fractures of the spine. Sacral fractures or sacral insufficiency are treated with sacroplasty. A vertebral compression fracture is a fracture of the vertebral body. Vertebral compression fractures often occur after falls or trauma such as car accidents. The vertebral body appears compressed, causing significant pain and worsened kyphosis (forward bending of the spine). Kyphoplasty is used to help with pain from the fracture and decrease the chances of worsening spinal deformities.
Kyphoplasty is done in the operating room, usually under general anesthesia or with light sedation. Under fluoroscopy (x-ray), a balloon catheter is guided into the fractured vertebral body and inflated with a liquid under pressure. As the balloon inflates, it helps restore the collapsed vertebral body’s height and correct abnormal wedging of the broken vertebra. Once maximally inflated, the balloon is deflated and removed, thus leaving a large cavity in the vertebral body. This cavity is then filled with bone cement under low pressure, which then hardens in place, maintaining correction of the collapse and wedging.
In some cases, the expertise of a surgeon is required to determine if a surgical procedure is required. Surgeries are typically required when patients have structure damage resulting in neurologic deficits. Examples of the deficits are muscle weakness and loss of sensation. Surgery is also offered when there is instability or risk of damaging the spinal cord and nerves as the spine is no longer structurally sound. Lastly, surgery can be considered if patients continue to have pain despite trying the previously mentioned therapies, injections, and pain medication.
The safety measures in a car that help us keep safe in many ways can lead to back pain after an accident. Because of this, there are many causes of back pain after a car accident and many different treatment options. Our Excel Pain and Spine team recognizes that the road to pain relief can be a confusing journey. In addition to providing customized, personalized treatment plans, we strive to deliver positive friction-free experiences at every touchpoint to make the journey as stress-free as possible. This is particularly vital when patients suffer from an injury resulting from an accident, and time is of the essence. If you have back pain after a car accident and need help getting relief to get back your life, let us know how we can help. If you would like to request an expedited visit with our providers, please click here.