If you’ve been involved in a traumatic event such as an automobile accident or a workplace injury, there are several common injuries that frequently occur and need to be addressed as quickly and thoroughly as possible in order to reach a status of “pre-accident health.” Following a trauma, injuries can vary in type, severity, and tissue/s involved. Health care providers who treat these conditions for a living are specially trained to determine those types, severities and specific tissue/s.
The purpose of this article is to give you some basics that will help you better understand the injuries that are most commonly seen following trauma so when you and your doctor talk you can have a little familiarity with the things they are sharing with you.
One of the most common injuries following any type of trauma (car crash, work injury, sports injury, slip/fall, etc.) is a sprain/strain complex. Sprains are injuries that occur to ligaments and can go from mild to severe with mild being a slight disruption of the ligamentous tissue and the most severe being a complete tear of the entire ligament structure.
Ligaments are bands of fibers that connect joints together and are meant to make them stable while allowing a safe amount of motion to take place. If a ligament is partially torn, there will be a lot of pain and swelling in and around the involved joint. If it is completely torn, the pain can be often be less than in a partial tear in the hours following the injury, but there will be much less stability in the involved joint and the outlook for care often involves surgery to repair/replace the ligament.
Torn Ankle Ligaments
When a muscle or group of muscles goes through a traumatic event, the resulting injury is called a strain. Like sprains, the severity can range from mild to a complete tear of the muscle but instead of occurring in a ligament like a sprain, the strain occurs in a muscle. Mild muscle strains cause some local pain and minimal swelling, but severe strains can be very debilitating and require a surgical repair.
Rotator Cuff Anatomy
Torn Rotator Cuff
Common Sprain and Strain Injuries
Sprains and strains occur in every body region and oftentimes these two injuries occur together. A common example of a sprain/strain injury occurs in the spine. Following a trauma where lots of forces are placed through the system, the ligaments can stretch past their normal limits causing a strain and the muscles which try to guard against the forces of motion become “torn”, or strained. Besides the spine, torn muscles and ligaments are also commonly seen in the shoulders, knees, wrists, and ankles after a traumatic event.
Non-complicated mild and moderate sprains and strains typically heal quite well with conservative care and restricted activities. If the sprains are located in the spinal joints (known as facets) and don’t respond to things like physical therapy and chiropractic, they may be treated with injections of anti-inflammatory steroids to help them heal.
Another common injury seen as the result of trauma to the spine in a car crash or work injury occurs in the spinal discs. These discs are very tough, fibrous structures but under certain conditions they can become injured and torn. A tearing of the disc tissue allows a gel-like substance that lives at the center of each disc to begin to migrate to the outer edges of that disc. When this “gel” begins to move outward, it increases the pressure on the remaining disc fibers which increases swelling and eventually causes pain by putting pressure on spinal nerves that exit the spine and sit right next to the disc. This type of injury is called a disc “bulge”.
If the inner gel of the disc makes it all the way to the outside of the disc space, it’s called a disc prolapse or disc extrusion. This is a worse-case scenario as the gel can sit on all kinds of nerve tissue and create excruciating pain. This injury oftentimes requires a surgery to remove the gel material from the spinal region.
Extruded Disc (third from left)
While there are several more common injuries we could highlight, I wanted to focus our attention on one that can easily go unnoticed or untreated following a trauma where the head was whipped back and forth from either a direct contact with another surface (hitting head on the ground, etc.) or an indirect contact where the head had to “absorb” multiple forces over a very short period of time, i.e. “whiplash”. When the brain undergoes trauma it can have a profound effect on a person’s ability to “think clearly”, to process emotions, concentrate, read and even sleep. Additionally, head injuries can cause severe headaches and even visual disturbances and hearing issues. All of the above can be categorized as “concussion-type” symptoms and should be treated by experts as soon as they are noticed. Left untreated, concussive-type symptoms can affect every part of a person’s daily function and make them feel like they are going crazy. Thankfully, there are treatments for the symptoms of concussion that allow patients to manage their symptoms over time while their brain is healing.
As a chiropractor of almost 30 years, I’m awed at the number of fantastic doctors and other health care providers who have dedicated their lives to treating injury cases and the patients who suffer with sprain/strain issues, disc injuries and concussive disorders. If you’ve been injured and are suffering, it’s critical that you find a medical team who can evaluate your injuries and use the latest, most effective treatments to get you back to full-function!
If you have any questions or need help finding a trauma specialist, feel free to call me, Dr. Jim Hoven at 720-580-8306…I’m here to help!