Spinal Stenosis from Car Accidents

by LMatthews on December 22, 2011

spinal stenosis car accidentSpinal stenosis can result from illness, injury, and general wear and tear but every year people suffering car accidents develop spinal stenosis symptoms without even realizing that the health of their spine was already compromised. Smoking, dehydration, other inflammatory conditions, nutrient deficiencies, and even repetitive microtrauma can all cause the cervical spine to suffer more extensive damage upon acute injury demonstrating the importance of keeping your spine healthy at all times. Slippy black ice due to the current wintery weather can have you spinning out of control in your car leading to an accident, whiplash, and cervical spinal damage causing spinal stenosis and neck pain. Find out more about spinal stenosis and car accidents and what could help reduce your risks.

Whiplash Symptoms

Those suffering a car accident may not immediately experience whiplash symptoms as these can take a day or so to fully materialize. Neck pain, shoulder pain, headaches, and pain or abnormal sensations in the hands and arms, or even the chest and head, can suggest cervical spinal damage and spinal stenosis after whiplash. Some people find that their motor skills are affected and they feel clumsy or uncoordinated. In such cases there may be acute myelopathy and it is important to seek immediate care to relieve compression of the spinal cord itself. Both cervical spinal stenosis and lumbar spinal stenosis are possible from a car accident although neck symptoms and damage are the more common effects of whiplash.

Pre-existing Stenosis and Pain

Where a patient has pre-existing narrowing of the spinal column the effects are likely to manifest in that area rather than in another region of the spine where there is more room to accommodate short-term inflammation and trauma. Those with little or no spinal stenosis may also suffer from a car accident but the symptoms are more likely to dissipate as inflammation subsides. Considerable stenosis of the spine can be present and remain asymptomatic, only being discovered following an event such as a blow to the back or neck, or a car accident causing whiplash and associated symptoms.

Diagnosing Spinal Stenosis


A variety of tests to assess the degree of stenosis will be carried out by the physician, such as extension, rotation, and flexion exercises that can help to identify the likely source of the pain in the anterior or posterior spine. Some problems may take longer to develop, such as muscle loss, coordination and balance issues, or bladder/bowel incontinence, all of which are connected to progressive myelopathy rather than radiculopathy. Such symptoms, which may be labelled as ‘central cord syndrome’, require immediate attention and may indicate the presence of more extensive damage and spinal stenosis from a car accident than was at first thought.

Treating Spinal Stenosis After a Car Accident

Treating symptoms of spinal stenosis following a car accident may involve an increase in medications already taken, such as NSAIDs, acetaminophen, or even corticosteroids, as well as epidural steroid injections for relief of acute pain and inflammation. Patients may find physical therapy and relaxation techniques work well to relieve pain, especially if the incident was particularly stressful and traumatic. Exploring these options with the doctor is important to establish effective back pain treatment following a car accident, especially as certain exercises could exacerbate the damage.

Where inflammation is present it is unwise to apply heat to an area, but ice packs could help to relieve pain and other symptoms. Massage is also problematic in some cases as this can increase compression of the nerves or irritate inflamed joints and muscles. Most chiropractors and osteopaths will be reluctant to treat a patient following an acute injury to the spine without first acquiring diagnostic imagery of the spine and conducting other assessments to ensure they do not unwittingly worsen the problem. Caution is advised over anyone applying spinal stenosis treatments without taking a thorough history and assessment.

Spinal Stenosis Surgery

foraminal cervical stenosis diagramBack surgery for spinal stenosis may be required for some patients suffering a car accident. This is usually where pre-existing spinal stenosis has been made worse by the accident and there is considerable compression on the nerves and/or spinal cord by mechanical means rather than through inflammation alone. Where a spinal fracture, disc herniation, or spinal slippage has occurred it is often necessary to operate to remove offending material and stabilize the spine to prevent further nerve or spinal cord damage. Anterior cervical discectomy, decompression, and fusion is one type of surgery that may occur to relieve spinal stenosis after a car accident.

Other surgeries include foraminotomy, laminectomy or laminotomy, and even cervical arthroplasty where an artificial disc is used to restore the intervertebral height whilst maintaining some flexibility. The best way to avoid the need for such surgery is take good care of your spine, including staying hydrated, stopping smoking, remaining active and well-nourished, and performing strengthening and stretching exercises for the spine. That way, if you are unlucky enough to have a car accident, spinal stenosis may not occur and any symptoms you suffer should, hopefully, disappear long before any court case is settled.

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