What is Causing Lower Back Pain After a Car Accident?

Car accidents generate a lot of harmful force.  When a car suddenly collides with something or gets hit by another vehicle, the occupants inside get forcefully propelled in the direction of the impact.  Inside the confines of a car, this physical propulsion is usually stopped by another impact with a door, window, seat belt or airbag.  Both the sudden forward movement and the sudden stop put acute stress on the spine and neck.  These critically important areas of the body are most vulnerable in an auto accident.

The violent forward and stopping the movement of occupants in a car accident is commonly called “whiplash” and is one of the leading causes of back injuries in an auto accident. Injuries to the lower back can be extremely painful and notoriously difficult to treat and recover from. This article will focus on the possible causes of lower back pain that occurs after a car accident.

Mechanics of Pain in Lower Back After Car Accident

When people think about injuries resulting from the whiplash forces of car accident, they usually focus on injuries to the neck, shoulders and upper back area. In fact, the term whiplash usually generates a mental image of someone wearing a thick neck brace.  Although whiplash neck injuries are very common, the forces generated by the whiplash of a car accident can also cause injuries to the lower back – or lumbar spine.  When the body of an occupant in a car accident comes to a sudden stop, the upper and lower spine are usually focal points of the force.  The compression and pressure of this on the lower spine is what results in painful lower back injuries.

The lower back (lumbar spine) is comprised of 5 vertebrae (L1-L5) bones that stack on top of each other.  In between each of these bones is an area of soft tissue known as a disc.  The spinal disc is shaped like a doughnut and it has an out casing that holds in a soft gel-like center.  The discs act as pads or cushions reducing harmful friction between the spinal vertebrae.  Outside of the bones and discs of the spine are a network of nerves, muscles, and ligaments that hold things together and transmit signals from the brain.  These ligaments and nerves in the spine connect to other areas of the body including the upper back, neck and down the back to the legs to the feet.

Most Common Lower Back Injuries in Car Accident

Pain in the lower back following a car accident is very common.  As discussed above, the forces involved in typical accident frequently cause injuries to the lower back which can be very painful.  Lower back injuries and pain can occur in any type of accident but they are more common in front or back impact collisions compared to side impact accidents.  Pain in the lower back following a car accident is usually the result of one of the following common injuries: lumbar sprains, disc herniations, or spinal stenosis.

  • Lumbar Sprains: a lumbar sprain results when the ligaments and/or tendons in the lower back are stretched too much causing a tear or sprain of the tissue. These types of sprains occur frequently in car accidents, particularly side impact accidents.
  • Disc Herniation: disc herniation occurs when the outer casing of the spinal disc tears or ruptures allowing the soft gel-like core of the disc to bulge out (sometimes referred to as a bulging disc). When the soft inner core of the disc pushes out thru the ruptured casing it usually compresses nearby nerves.  The impact and compression on the nerves can cause very severe and chronic pain.
  • Spinal Stenosis: spinal stenosis is a condition caused by narrowing of the channel where the spinal bones rest. This narrowing is something that occurs naturally due to aging but it can also result from sudden force such as in a car accident. When spinal stenosis results from a car accident, it is typically caused by bulging disc or fragmented boned causing pressure and narrowing of the bone channel.

Diagnosing Lower Back Pain After an Accident

If you suddenly start to experience lower back immediately after a car accident, the cause and effect relationship between the 2 might seem obvious.  You still need to see a doctor and get a formal diagnosis of the exact cause of your lower back pain.  This is important for both your treatment and potential legal claims.  Sometimes lower back pain can result from natural aging.  The spinal discs tend to degenerate as you get older making them more prone to disc herniation and other types of injuries.

A formal diagnosis will help determine whether your lower back pain was in fact caused by the trauma of the car accident or simply the result of getting old.  In many cases, the lower back injury is the result of natural degeneration that was suddenly accelerated into a painful injury due to the trauma of the car accident.  Diagnosis of lower back injuries typically starts with a physical exam by your doctor usually followed by physical therapy. Diagnostic imaging tests, such as an MRI, are usually required to definitively identify and diagnose lower back injuries.

Additional Information About Back Injuries & Car Accidents

Contact the Auto Accident Lawyers at Miller & Zois

If you experience lower back pain following an auto accident, contact the personal injury attorneys at Miller & Zois to discuss what you should do next.  You may be entitled to compensation for your injury.  Call us at 1.800.553.8082 or submit a request for a free consultation.