When a rider is involved in a motorcycle crash, the injuries can be far worse than what a driver of a passenger car might suffer in a similar accident. That’s because the motorcycles do not provide the protection of a metal cage surrounding the driver.
In many cases, injuries from motorcycle accidents are fatal. According to the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, more than 166 motorcyclists died on South Carolina roads in 2021, with more than 423 suffering injuries that landed them in the emergency department.
Most Common Motorcycle Injuries
The types of injuries that are most common in motorcycle accidents can have a lasting impact on the victim’s life. They include:
Head and Neck Injuries
Injuries to the head and neck are among the worst injuries that victims suffer in motorcycle crashes. Head injuries from motorcycle crashes often involve traumatic brain injuries (TBI). A traumatic brain injury is a type of acquired brain injury that occurs when the brain is suddenly traumatized. A TBI can occur when an object hits the head with force, when the head is shaken violently back and forth, or when the skull and the brain are punctured by an object. TBIs disrupt normal brain function. They can range from a mild concussion to more serious, life-altering injuries that impair physical or cognitive functions.
Helmets provide protection from TBI and other head injuries, but can’t prevent them completely. According to a data set provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that looked at the rate of severe facial and head injuries among motorcyclists, 6.6 percent of unhelmeted motorcyclists sustained a moderate to severe facial or head injury, whereas 5.1 percent of helmeted motorcyclist sustained this type of injury. Furthermore, 15 percent of hospital-treated motorcyclists suffered a TBI, and TBI severity varied by helmet use. More than 7 percent of non-helmeted, hospital-treated motorcyclists sustained a severe TBI.
A TBI can affect cognitive abilities, physical abilities, and emotions. While some TBIs may improve with surgeries, other treatments, or time, most will affect the individual for the rest of his or her life.
Spinal Cord Injuries
The spinal cord is one of the most sensitive and important parts of the body. When injured, the results can be catastrophic, and permanent or partial paralysis may occur.
An injury to the spinal cord occurs when the spinal column – the collection of vertebrae that compose the spine and protect the spinal cord – is disturbed. This can happen if a motorcyclist lands on his or her neck or back, if an object pierces the motorcyclist’s back, or if the motorcyclist is crushed between two objects.
A spinal cord injury can result in partial or complete paralysis. If the spinal cord is completely severed, complete paralysis from the injury site down will likely occur. If the cord is only partially severed, partial paralysis from the injury site down is more likely. Currently, there is no way to correct a spinal cord injury, although, according to the Mayo Clinic, scientists are optimistic that advances in research will one day make recovery possible.
Injuries to lower extremities including legs, ankles, knees, and feet are common in motorcycle wrecks due to the exposed nature of the riders’ legs. Although leg injuries are typically not fatal, they can cause intense pain and lead to long-term disability and expensive medical treatment. Recovery from a lower limb injury may entail surgeries and extensive physical therapy over several months. In the aftermath, injured riders could be left with a limp or partial to complete paralysis, impacting their quality of life.
Broken bones can happen throughout the body. When a motorcycle falls over, it can result in broken legs, arms, or wrists. Hitting the ground hard or at the wrong angle, making contact with another object, or having part of the body forced into an unnatural position can easily break a bone. A broken bone can occur anywhere in the body, but the upper and lower extremities are perhaps most at risk. Broken ribs are quite common in a motorcycle accident. This can require surgical intervention, involving the placement of rods, pins, screws, or other hardware along with months of healing and rehabilitation.
Internal injuries can cause internal bleeding, which can damage organs and trigger life-threatening blood loss. When the body is hit with enough force or a broken bone injury is severe, the internal organs of the body may be damaged or punctured. In turn, this can result in internal bleeding. Internal bleeding can occur in many different areas of the body (organs, tissues, head, chest, etc.), can be very painful, and is extremely dangerous.
Part of the reason that internal injuries are so dangerous is the fact that the bleeding is not visible to the naked eye. If an internal injury is not treated, a person could die.
Arm injuries can occur if the motorcyclist lands on his or her arm in the impact. These injuries are common as motorcyclists are often ejected from their vehicles and launched into the air during a crash. This could lead to nerve damage in the arm and upper body. Shoulder injuries including torn rotator cuffs are also common.