Hurt Your Neck Or Back In A Car Accident – Why A MRI Scan Is Crucial!

person with neck injury talking to a doctor

By: Attorney Ken Harrell

The most common injuries sustained in car accidents are injuries to the neck and back.  When you consider the force involved in these accidents and the awkward positioning of the body in a car seat, it’s not surprising that these are the most frequently sustained injuries.  Fortunately, most people who hurt their neck or back in car wrecks have muscular injuries.  If you’ve ever strained your neck or back, you know that this can cause a world of hurt.  However, with appropriate conservative treatment, these injuries typically resolve within four to eight weeks and usually do not result in any permanent injury.  A more serious situation can arise when someone sustains an injury to a disc in their spine.  (The neck area is the cervical spine whereas the low back area is the lumbar spine).  A vertebral disc is the spongy shock absorber positioned between each of the numerous vertebrae which make up your spine.  If an accident results in a bulging or herniated disc (a herniated disc is when the softer jelly-like substance in the middle of the disc pushes through the more rigid exterior), the injury victim can be left with debilitating pain and medical treatment needs that could last a lifetime.  Most of this pain is caused by pressure placed on the nerves in your spinal cord due to the bulging or displaced disc.  Given the severe consequences of a herniated disc injury, it is crucial that someone hurt in a car wreck get the benefit of a MRI scan diagnostic test.

There are typically three types of diagnostic tests done after someone is hurt due to a trauma.  The first, and most frequent, type of testing are standard x-rays.  X-rays are very effective in ruling out fractures or dislocations of bones but are virtually useless when it comes to diagnosing disc and other soft tissue injuries.  The second type of testing is a CT-scan.  The CT-scan is more effective in diagnosing non-bony injuries than x-rays because it provides a three-dimensional view of the body but it lacks the detail of the MRI scan.  The MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) test works by using a magnetic field and radio waves to produce detailed pictures of the body’s internal organs.  It is the gold standard for diagnosing bulging and herniated disc injuries, and torn muscle injuries such as a shoulder rotator cuff tear.

Since the MRI scan is the gold standard for determining if these injuries have occurred, why aren’t they always ordered for someone who has been hurt in a car wreck?  Typically, the number one reason is cost.  However, if you’ve been hurt due to the negligence or recklessness of someone else, why should a short-cut be taken on your diagnostic testing?  It should not be!  I guarantee you that if the president was hurt in a car accident, one of the first tests to be done would be a MRI scan.  You didn’t cause the wreck so why should you be forced to take a chance with what could be significant future treatment needs.  This is especially true when you consider that the symptoms from a herniated disc injury can vary greatly from one person to the next, and the same thing is true as to how long it may take for a herniated disc injury to become symptomatic.  Perhaps you’ve hurt your back in the past moving furniture at home.  There’s a good chance that your doctor may have held off for weeks (or even months) before ordering a MRI scan.  That may be fine as there are likely no potential legal consequences here.  By comparison, assume that you were hurt in a car accident and it took a few months before the results of a herniated disc injury became problematic for you.  Without proper diagnostic testing (i.e., a MRI scan) on the front end, this injury would most likely go undiagnosed and if you accepted a low-ball settlement offer from the at-fault driver’s insurance company, your claim is over and can’t be re-opened because a more serious condition is later discovered.

Bottom line, if you’ve been hurt due to someone else’s negligence, it’s crucial that you get thorough diagnostic testing done to keep you from being victimized a second time.  Without a doubt, the best test for determining if you have a disc injury in your neck or your back is a MRI scan.  There are times when the patient needs to be his own best advocate and that can include pushing the doctor to not take short-cuts on your diagnostic testing.