Can a Car Accident Cause Nerve Damage? Signs You Should Seek Medical and Legal Help

Car Accident Nerve Damage

In addition to cuts, bruises, and broken bones, car accidents can cause nerve damage, too. Like other internal injuries, nerve damage might not be obvious immediately after a crash. But it can be just as serious, if not more so.

There is a wide range of nerve damage that can result from an auto accident, including everything from mild, temporary numbness to permanent paralysis. Treatment costs depend on the severity of the injury. Even a minor case can keep someone home from work for a day or two, or require a doctor’s visit. More serious injuries could need weeks, months, or even years of surgery and therapy.

When a nerve injury is the result of an accident that was someone else’s fault, the victim deserves compensation. This means a reimbursement of medical expenses and future care, as well as damages for lifestyle changes associated with a catastrophic disability.

Types of Nerves and What They Do

There are 31 pairs of nerves extending from the spine to different areas of the body. They send signals that tell the body how to move, feel, and function. The impact of a car accident can compress, crush, stretch, or sever one or more nerves. How these injuries affect a person depends on the type of nerve that is hurt.

Motor nerves control movement. Damage can interfere with the ability to stand, walk, pick things up, etc.

Sensory nerves give people the ability to feel hot, cold, soft, hard, etc. Injured sensory nerves produce numbness, tingling, or other sensations.

Autonomic nerves deal with the body’s involuntary systems. They make the heart and lungs work, as well as handling bodily functions like digestion.

Some nerve damage is obvious immediately following an accident—for example, signs of paralysis when a victim can not feel their legs. Others, such as a numbness in the feet or hands (called neuropathy) might intensify in the days after a crash.

When diagnosed promptly, treatment can successfully resolve a number of nerve injuries. It is important to get medical attention as soon as possible after any car accident to start getting the proper care.

Signs You Might Have Nerve Damage

Car Accident Cause Nerve Damage

A victim might not feel the symptoms of nerve damage right after a car accident, especially if they have sustained other injuries. A concussion, bleeding cuts, or a painful broken bone can distract from the signs of a nerve injury. Some symptoms are subtle or can take a few hours or even days to appear. Here are things to watch for:

  • Numbness
  • Tingling, prickly, or burning sensations
  • Shooting pain
  • Pain radiating to an uninjured body part (for example, damage to the sciatic nerve at the base of the spine causes pain down the leg)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Slow or decreased reflexes
  • Foot drop or loss of balance
  • Headaches
  • Bladder or bowel control issues
  • Sexual dysfunction

These symptoms can occur anywhere in the body, but are most common along the spine or in the extremities. Numbness and tingling might be just in the fingertips, or all the way down the arm. Because of the wide variety of symptoms, it is best to see a doctor for a diagnosis and a treatment plan.

Did the Accident Cause the Damage?

When it comes to proving whether or not a nerve issue is really the result of a recent car crash, it is helpful to know the types of movements and impacts that can damage the nerves. Nerve damage is often associated with the following conditions. If one of them happened during the crash, it is further proof that the crash was the proximate cause of the corresponding nerve damage.

Pinched nerves. Inflamed and swollen muscles and soft tissues can compress nerves, causing some of the symptoms above.

Whiplash. The shaking and jerking of the head associated with whiplash puts pressure on the nerves at the base of the neck and shoulders.

Herniated disc. A sudden, violent twisting motion can damage the discs, especially in the lower back. This can compress the nearby nerves and radiate to the extremities.

Blunt force trauma. Getting hit in the head or body during an accident can compress, crush, or tear the surrounding nerves.

Just as recovery time for all of these conditions vary, so does the recovery from nerve damage. Nerve tissue needs time to regrow and repair. And unfortunately, some damage might be too severe for that to happen. Seeing a doctor right away after an accident is the best way to gauge if the victim will regain full function of their nerves, or if they will only have a partial recovery.

Understanding the likelihood of recovering from nerve damage or any accident injury is crucial to negotiating a settlement. If a personal injury alters a victim’s ability to work, live independently, or enjoy life as they once did, they deserve to be compensated.

Diagnosing and Treating Nerve Damage

Car Accident Nerve Damage

When checking for nerve damage, a physician’s exam will include testing a patient’s reflexes, strength, range of motion, and coordination. Something like the inability to grip an object or slow reflexes could help the doctor make the diagnosis.

Neurological tools such as an EMG (Electromyography) tests for nerve function. A Nerve Conduction Study (NCS) measures how the nerves respond to stimuli and shows electrical activity in the muscles.

An MRI or a CT scan may be used to show other internal injuries such as herniated discs that might be the underlying cause of the nerve issue.

Treatment and recovery time will depend on the diagnosis. These three types of nerve injuries are the most common:

Neurapraxia: compression and interruption of the blood supply to nerves. This is the type of injury that happens with a pinched nerve or whiplash. A full recovery usually happens within about 6 to 8 weeks.

Axonotmesis: crushed nerves. This typically results from an impact that is more violent than one causing neurapraxia. A full recovery might be possible, but damage could be permanent, causing partial or full paralysis.

Neurotmesis: severe crushing or laceration of the nerves. This is the most serious nerve condition. A patient may regain partial feeling and mobility of the affected area, but full recovery is nearly always impossible.

For neurapraxia and axonotmesis, treatment usually includes braces or splints, physical therapy and exercising the muscle to regain strength and range of motion. Electrical stimulators might also be used to activate the muscle to promote nerve regrowth. In some cases, surgery might be necessary to repair the nerves.

Compensation for Nerve Damage Recovery

Although it is not visible, nerve damage can be a very serious result of a car accident. It is one more reason why the lawyers at Hipskind & McAninch LLC urge you to get medical treatment as soon as possible after a crash.

When an accident is someone else’s fault, the victim is entitled to damages that cover their medical costs for recovery. In the case of nerve damage, this could mean a few sessions with a physical therapist. Or it could involve months of doctor visits, tests, rehabilitation, and physical therapy. And in the case of permanent nerve damage, it could be catastrophic, leaving the victim incapacitated, unable to work, and with a diminished quality of life.

Since the costs of nerve damage—both physical and financial—can be life altering, you will need an experienced personal injury attorney to help you calculate your losses and get the settlement you deserve. Contact Hipskind & McAninch to review your case.


Car Accidents, Personal Injury, Uncategorized


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