Car accidents can be a traumatic event, whether they happened yesterday or years ago. Even if you walked away seemingly unscathed, it’s possible to experience lingering effects long after the crash.
One such effect is sciatica, a painful back and leg nerve condition.
Let’s explore car accidents and their relation to sciatica, how to tell if you have it, and treatments for this painful condition.
Can a Car Accident Cause Sciatica?
A car accident may cause sciatica if the injuries sustained are to discs in the lower spine (Lumbar spinal column) causing nerve root pressure, or if there is trauma to the sciatic nerve itself. The force of the impact can cause the spine to become compressed or misaligned, leading to sciatic pain.
Sciatica is typically caused by compression of the sciatic nerve in the lower back. This compression can occur due to a range of factors, including a herniated disc, bone spur, or spinal stenosis, and can arise from trauma.
Even a relatively minor car crash can cause damage to the spine and surrounding connective tissue, resulting in a pinched nerve and possible future sciatic pain that might become a disability, in extreme cases.
How to Tell If You Have Sciatica
The most common symptom of sciatica is pain that radiates from the lower back down to the legs. This pain can range from a dull ache to an intense, sharp pain that makes it difficult to walk or stand.
The pain is typically felt on one side of the body and may be accompanied by other symptoms, such as numbness or tingling in the legs. A medical professional may use diagnostic imaging, such as an MRI scan or CT scan, to identify any injuries and develop an appropriate treatment plan.
If you experience these symptoms after a car crash, it’s important to seek medical attention right away. A medical professional can diagnose the condition and recommend an appropriate course of treatment.
In some cases, a physical therapist may be able to help alleviate sciatic pain through exercises that improve range of motion and reduce pressure on the sciatic nerve. Steroid injections may also be recommended to reduce inflammation around lumbar joints and nerve roots to relieve pain.
Sciatica Treatment After a Car Accident
If you’ve been diagnosed with sciatica as a result of a car accident, see a professional to get your body healing. Chiropractors and physical therapists will develop a treatment plan tailored to you, and work alongside your medical doctor.
The latter may recommend medication, or other interventions depending on severity.
Here is a guide to the most proven Sciatica treatment approaches:
Chiropractors can help alleviate sciatica by manipulating the spine and improving its alignment. A poorly-moving spinal segment in your low back can put pressure on the exiting nerve roots, causing pain and discomfort.
By performing adjustments and realigning the spine, chiropractors aim to relieve pressure on the nerve, reducing inflammation and promoting your body’s healing processes.
Additionally, chiropractors may recommend exercises and stretches to improve your range of motion (ROM) and strengthen the back muscles, which can help prevent future episodes of sciatica. However, it’s important to note that chiros may not be suitable for all cases of sciatica, especially those caused by severe injuries or nerve damage.
Physical therapy involves exercises designed to strengthen the muscles around the spine and improve flexibility to reduce pressure on nerves.
This can help relieve sciatica pain by reducing inflammation and improving mobility.
Common physical therapy Sciatica treatments include
- stretching exercises
- strengthening exercises
- balance training
- posture correction techniques
- heat/cold therapies
- electrical stimulation (TENS)
- ultrasound therapy
Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen (paracetamol) may provide temporary relief from sciatica pain but should not be used long-term without consulting your doctor first.
Prescription medications such as muscle relaxants may also be prescribed by a medical doctor to help manage symptoms of sciatica pain.
Corticosteroid injections are commonly used to reduce inflammation in areas where nerve roots become compressed due to disc herniation or spinal stenosis which can cause radiating leg pains associated with sciatica conditions.
These injections usually provide short-term relief for a few weeks, but do not address underlying issues causing the condition so they should only be considered after other treatments have been tried first with no success, or to calm inflammation short-term.
Dry needling and acupuncture
This relatively new approach works wonders for some people. Typically it is used alongside proper corrective approaches like chiropractic adjustments and physical therapy. We wrote a full post discussing acupuncture vs. dry needling so you can understand what’s involved.
Surgery is typically reserved for cases where conservative treatments have failed or when there is severe nerve damage. This might call for a medical professional like a neurosurgeon who specializes in procedures related to entrapped or compressed nerves, or spinal decompression surgery.
Living With Sciatica From A Car Crash
It’s also important to consider the financial implications of sciatica and other car accident injuries. Medical bills can quickly add up, and you may be unable to work or enjoy your usual activities while recovering from your injuries.
If the car accident was the result of another driver’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation, however, any legal advice is beyond the scope of this article, so please refer to other online resources to learn more, or speak with someone who can personally help you in this area.
Car accident victims should be aware that insurance companies may try to minimize the severity of their injuries or deny their claims altogether. This is why it’s essential to work with a personal injury lawyer who understands the nuances of car accident cases and can advocate for your rights.
Many car accident lawyers offer a free initial consultation, so there may be no cost to you to explore your legal options.
Can sciatica be caused by whiplash?
While whiplash can cause a variety of symptoms, including neck pain, headaches, and back pain, it is unlikely to directly cause sciatica.
Sciatica is caused by compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back down through the legs, and is typically the result of a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or other spinal injuries.
How long after a car accident can sciatica develop?
Sciatica can develop immediately after a car accident or may take weeks or months to appear. Seeking medical attention as soon as possible after a car accident is essential to diagnose any injuries that could potentially cause sciatica further down the track, such as disc herniation.
What is the typical recovery time for sciatica caused by a car accident?
The recovery time for sciatica caused by a car accident typically ranges from two to five weeks but varies depending on the severity of the injury. With proper medical treatment and rehabilitation, many car accident victims with sciatica can regain their range of motion and quality of life.
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