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How do doctors diagnose a spinal injury?

While almost any kind of injury can occur during a car accident, spinal trauma is common in both passengers and drivers. The Mayo Clinic reports that while most of these types of injuries are not reversible, doctors strive to treat patients as completely as possible so they can maintain their independence.

Some spinal injuries are not always immediately apparent after a car accident, but doctors work to diagnose this trauma in several different ways.

Imaging equipment

In the case of a closed spinal injury where there is no open wound or visible trauma present, doctors often use imaging equipment, such as magnetic resonance imaging, to identify problems that may cause mobility issues. During MRI scans, doctors search for problems specific to the spinal column, such as:

  • Fractures
  • Injuries to vertebrae
  • Blood clots

An MRI scan can also assist doctors in diagnosing the level or severity of a spinal cord injury.

Neurological testing

Conscious and lucid individuals involved in car accidents can sometimes assist a physician with making a spinal injury diagnosis through neurological testing. During this process, an attending physician performs a series of tests that involve asking the patient to lift or move certain limbs or use certain muscle groups to gauge the extent of a spinal injury.


Much like an MRI, physicians use X-rays to photograph and view the spines of those involved in serious car accidents to pinpoint fractures and other injuries. MRI scans and X-rays are often used together to create a more comprehensive view of an injury.

Doctors may treat car crash patients for shock and broken bones before they address any possible spinal injuries. This protects the patients’ ability to survive before more testing occurs.