Motorcycle neck injuries are not as common as other types of motorcycle accident injuries but they can be among the most devastating. The spinal column is a delicate instrument and carries inside it a cluster of nerves that is essential for life itself. Indeed, these injuries can cause instant death, paralysis, debilitation, and more in the blink of an eye. That's why EMTs are trained to treat every accident victim as if they're suffering from a motorcycle neck injury even if they're not.
But how common are these types of injuries in motorcycle accidents, what causes them, and how can victims hope to recover? If you've suffered a motorcycle neck injury after being struck by a negligent or reckless driver, there is hope.
Almost 10% of motorcyclists involved in crashes will suffer some sort of spinal injury. While that doesn't sound all that scary, there are roughly 12,000 injurious motorcycle accidents per year in California—meaning 1,200 people suffer some sort of neck injury annually. Indeed, one scientific study found that virtually all motorcycle riders who suffered some sort of head trauma in a motorcycle crash had also suffered a neck injury as well even if there was no obvious evidence of that neck injury. That's a scary statistic because it suggests that many motorcycle neck injuries go unnoticed and thus untreated.
Most motorcycle neck injuries involve the soft tissues in the neck. These types of injuries are often caused by the motion of a rider's head atop their neck during the crash. The muscles and bones in the neck were not designed to stabilize a victim's head during a crash and aren't strong enough to do so. This "whiplash" motion often leads to stretching and tearing of these tissues which include:
Additional motorcycle neck injuries may be caused by secondary impacts—rider's striking other objects after being ejected from their bikes. These secondary impacts are often what cause broken bones. Needless to say, breaks in the vertebrae can be one of the deadliest motorcycle neck injuries a victim could suffer.
These types of motorcycle accident neck injuries are the most common. Indeed, one Asian study found that almost any victim involved in a motorcycle accident who exhibited any sort of head trauma suffered from some sort of soft tissue neck injury as well.
The damage extends to the soft tissue (muscle, ligaments, tendons, etc.) in the neck. Often this damage is caused by the stretching or tearing of these tissues that occurs when a motorcycle rider's head bobbles back and forth during the primary impact of a motorcycle accident.
Soft tissue injuries can vary in severity from mild to debilitating. Mild motorcycle neck injuries tend to heal by themselves over time and may require only icing and bed rest. Severe injuries may never heal correctly and could result in permanent disability, reduced mobility, and chronic pain.
Determining the severity of a soft tissue injury can be difficult even for trained medical professionals. It's hard to actually "see" the damage because it can often be masked in medical imaging. Most often a CT scan, MRI, or ultrasound will be used to measure the trauma and asses which treatment (if any) will likely be effective.
Dislocations of spinal vertebrae can be instantly fatal. They can also cause permanent paralysis if the spinal cord is severed or impinged upon. However, a small percentage of bikers who suffer from these types of motorcycle neck injuries do survive.
Spinal dislocations often require intensive surgeries to realign and stabilize the vertebrae, making use of steel cages and pins to keep the victim's head as immobile as possible while the healing process takes place. Sometimes two or more vertebrae must be fused—surgically bonded together—so that they cannot move independently. Though this life-saving procedure may save a motorcycle accident victim form a lifetime of immobility, it often comes with side effects like chronic pain and the potential for serious complications like infection, nerve damage, and worse.
Fractures of one or more vertebrae are one of the most serious types of motorcycle neck injuries. This often happens when a rider's head comes into contact with an object (such as the car which struck them) and the body moves in an opposite direction. The amount of force placed on the neck can be tremendous and the twisting/bending motion forces bones to move in relation to one another in ways they were not designed to do.
A broken vertebra can instantly cause serious even fatal spinal cord injuries. And, even if the victim survives the initial injury, fractured vertebrae can shift during transport or treatment leading to severe nerve damage, paralysis, and death.
However, if the victim survives the initial impact, broken vertebrae can be treated. Often the patient's head and neck are completely immobilized and surgeons may use pins, bone grafts, or medical devices to reconstruct the spine in order to protect the precious, delicate nerves therein.
One of the most common objections rider's pose, when asked why they don't wear motorcycle helmets, is that they feel the risk of a neck injury is much higher. However, that fallacy is completely unfounded in science. In fact, one study from the 1990s looked at the occurrence of motorcycle neck injuries in victims involved in serious motorcycle accidents. The study compared the various types of injuries suffered by victims and including detailed autopsy reports from riders who did not survive.
The investigators found that helmeted riders were no more likely than un-helmeted riders to suffer motorcycle neck injuries. Indeed, another study conducted using information from ERs found that helmeted riders exhibited motorcycle neck injuries half as often as those who refused to wear helmets.
That's important to remember because not only does wearing a motorcycle helmet not increase the risk of motorcycle neck injuries, it dramatically decreases the risk of brain injuries—by as much as 85% according to some research).
As severe as many motorcycle neck injuries are, insurance companies don't often take into account all of the financial impacts such a devastating injury can have on a victim. Indeed, insurance companies often use actuary tables to determine what they should offer as compensation for your motorcycle accident. These tables were created by using the law of averages to assess specifically what each type of injury typically costs. However, when it comes to the very personal experience of recovering from a motorcycle accident, there is no average.
That's why victims often require the assistance of a qualified motorcycle accident attorney in order to get all the compensation they deserve. Your attorney can walk you through the motorcycle accident claims settlement process help you determine the exact dollar figure associated with your accident and injury including:
If you've suffered a motorcycle neck injury, and don’t know where to start after your motorcycle accident, don't hesitate to get the help you need from the best motorcycle accident lawyer you can find. The sooner you understand the impact that injury could potentially have on your life, the sooner you can start on your road to recovery.
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