If you are involved in a car crash and you suspect someone has any injury, it is important to call 911 right away. However, it is especially important that spinal cord injuries are identified and properly treated as soon as possible. Your ability to recognize the signs of a spinal cord injury at the scene of a car crash can help prevent the injury from becoming worse.

Spinal cord injuries are one of the most severe types of injuries that can occur because of a car crash. This type of injury involves damage to the spinal cord or to disks, ligaments, or vertebrae of the spinal column. Typically, a sudden blow to the neck or back causes this type of injury, but it can also be caused when something penetrates these areas. Because the spinal cord helps carry messages between the brain and the rest of the body, this type of injury is often associated with paralysis.

Signs of a spinal cord injury

Although paralysis can be a sign of spinal cord damage, this type of injury can appear in a variety of other ways as well. Some signs that may indicate a spinal cord injury, include:

  • Extreme back pain
  • Pressure in the neck, head of back
  • Weakness or incoordination in any body part
  • Numbness, tingling or loss of sensation in extremities
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Difficulty balancing
  • Impaired breathing
  • A twisted neck or back

Some symptoms like numbness or paralysis may appear over time as bleeding or swelling occurs, so spinal cord injuries are not always obvious. Because symptoms may not show up right away, it is safest to assume anyone who had significant trauma to the head or neck could have a spinal cord injury. Anyone who experienced trauma to the head or neck needs an immediate a medical evaluation.

How to help if you suspect someone has a spinal cord injury

When you think someone has a spinal cord injury, the main consideration is to help the person avoid movement because movement could make the injury worse. As you wait for the ambulance, try to keep the person still. If possible, place heavy towels or rolled sheets on both sides of the neck to help keep the person’s head and neck still until emergency responders arrive. Do not try to remove any helmet the person may be wearing.

If you have a first aid kit available, you may provide basic first aid as long as you do not have to move the person to do so. If you are trained in CPR and the person is not breathing, you may begin CPR, but do not tilt the head back. Instead, you may gently lift the jaw forward. If the person has no pulse, you may begin chest compressions.

Although the main concern is usually to keep the person still, some extreme circumstances may require you to roll the injured person. To do this safely, you will need at least one more person. You must work together with this other person to keep the injured person’s head, neck and back aligned while gently rolling the person onto one side. Either you or your helper must be at the head and the other must be along the side of the injured person to do this safely.

If a loved one received a spinal cord injury because of the negligent actions of another driver, litigation may be an appropriate action. This may help your loved one receive compensation for his or her medical expenses or other costs associated with the injury.

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