Catastrophic damage to the spinal cord causes significant life changes for a victim. Car crashes and other severe accidents are common causes of spinal injuries. 

If you were recently in a collision and sustained an injury to your head, neck or back, it is vital to be alert for signs of spinal cord damage. 

Signs and symptoms 

Spinal cord injuries can result in nerve pain, loss of movement or motor control and changes in sensations like heat, cold and touch. Acute signs at the time of injury can include: 

  • Pain in the neck, head or upper back 
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Numbness or weakness 
  • Lack of balance or coordination 
  • Paralysis 

Primary injury 

According to the National Institutes of Health, a spinal cord injury can be a two-stage process. The primary injury damages the spine due to a sudden impact or movement, like severe whiplash or a physical blow from a car accident. 

This impact generally causes spinal fractures or dislocated vertebrae, moving or stretching the cord into the wrong place. Your nerves stop sending signals to your brain, even if the cord sustains no damage. 

Secondary injury 

During the days and weeks after the initial trauma, your body endures the secondary injury phase. In this phase, you can experience several issues related to the primary injury. 

One subtle yet dangerous secondary injury is a change in blood flow to and around the spinal cord, affecting the cord itself and the brain. Slow-moving blood, in combination with swelling, cannot deliver the right amount of oxygen to your brain. This lack causes neurons to die and could result in permanent brain damage.