In 2011, nearly 1,000 motorcyclists were injured in crashes in Iowa, and another 34 died in a motorcycle crash, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation. Spinal cord injuries are one of the most serious types of injuries riders sustain, affecting approximately 11 percent of motorcycle accident victims, according to a St. James University Hospital study published in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery in 2002.
Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries
There are numerous causes of spinal cord injury including sports-related accidents, falls, and violence. However, the most common cause is motor vehicle accidents, which account for 40 percent of all new spinal injury cases, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Upon collision, riders’ vertebrae can become damaged; one or more of the vertebra can become crushed, compressed, or dislodged, causing the injury. In some instances, damaged ligaments or spinal discs can affect the spinal cord as well.
Types of Motorcycle Accident-Related Spinal Cord Injuries
There are two basic types of spinal cord injuries:
- Complete – When the doctors deem the injury “complete” this means that the rider has experienced a total loss of sensation and movement below the site of the injury.
- Incomplete – With an incomplete injury, some loss of sensation and function occurs, but it’s not total. There are varying degrees of incomplete spinal cord injuries, and sometimes it takes weeks or months to determine exactly to what extent the victim’s condition will remain.
In the St. James University Hospital study discussed above, researchers looked for patterns regarding types of spinal cord injuries in motorcycle crashes and their findings included the following statistics:
- isolated injuries to the spine occurred over 23 percent of riders;
- multiple vertebral levels (i.e., cervical, thoracic, and lumbar) were affected in over 42 percent of riders;
- the thoracic spine was the most commonly injured area of the spine, occurring in in 54.8 percent of cases;
- the lumbar spine was injured 30 percent of the time;
- twenty-seven percent of riders injured their cervical spine; and
- neurologic injury occurred in nearly 20 percent of the accidents.
Complications That Spinal Cord Injury Victims Face
After a spinal cord injury, there are numerous changes in body function that can cause health complications.
Possible complications include:
- blood clots;
- pressure sores;
- breathing difficulties;
- uncontrolled muscle movements;
- loss of bladder or bowel control;
- increased risk of urinary infections, kidney infections, and bladder stones;
- blood pressure problems;
- susceptibility to lung problems and pneumonia;
- muscle atrophy;
- weight issues (both weight loss and obesity);
- sexual and reproductive function issues;
- muscle and joint pain; and
- nerve pain.
The Dangers of Undiagnosed Vertebrae Fractures
Undiagnosed compression fractures can lead to serious long-term complications, one of which is kyphosis, or curvature of the spine. It causes deformity, can compress organs and leads to a host of health problems.
Other complications of undiagnosed compression fractures include:
- chronic pain;
- reduced physical function;
- impaired lung function;
- decreased ability to perform daily activities (work, play); and
- depression, anxiety, and decreased enjoyment in life.
If vertebral fractures are left untreated, the painful symptoms will increase over time, eventually causing the person to become disabled. If you have a fractured spine, treatment is essential. It can take persistence on the patient’s part, though. In many cases, compression fractures are hairline and they may not initially show up on X-rays.
If you’ve been injured on the job and suspect a compression fracture, seek medical attention immediately. Also, consult a lawyer about how to best move forward with a workers’ compensation claim.
Mental and Emotional Impact of Spinal Cord Injury
The above complications only touch on the physical side of a spinal cord injury. Many motorcycle riders have severe mental and emotional issues following such a severe injury after a crash.
According to a study published in 2008 in Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, there was a two-fold increase or more in the probability of an emotional disorder in spinal injury victims. Researchers at the Monash University Center for Developmental Psychology and Psychiatry noted that nearly half of spinal cord patients wind up suffering from mental health problems including:
- depression (37 percent of cases);
- anxiety (30 percent);
- clinical-level stress (25 percent); and
- post-traumatic stress disorder (8.4 percent).
Finding Help to Pursue the Best Possible Treatments
If you or your loved one recently suffered a spinal cord injury in a motorcycle accident, you’ll be forced to deal with hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills. There are new treatments becoming available for spinal injury victims, but they are very expensive.
But take note: if someone else was liable for the accident, you can work with an attorney to explore possible options for restitution. Feel free to call Walker, Billingsley & Bair in Des Moines for a FREE legal consultation today at (888) 435-9886, and we can discuss your legal options with you.