Back pain is the top cause of missed work days. And a leading reason for back pain comes from disc injuries. These injuries can happen in all kinds of accidents. But the violent forces you experience in a car accident are uniquely suited to crushing your discs, causing them to herniate or bulge.
Unfortunately, herniated discs can cause more than back pain. When your discs get injured, they can compress the nerve roots, leading to a range of nerve damage symptoms affecting body parts far from your damaged disc.
What Is the Anatomy of Your Spine?
Your spine has 24 separate vertebrae stacked on top of each other. These small bones give your spine flexibility because they meet in 25 joints. The joints allow your spine to curve and twist as you bend and turn your body. At the same time, they support the weight of your upper limbs, torso, and head.
These vertebrae have a solid, cylinder-shaped body and protrusions called processes. The processes come together at facet joints. The facet joints are lined with cartilage and wrapped in a capsule formed from ligaments. These facet joints guide and limit the movement of your vertebrae.
Collagen discs sit between the bodies. The discs cushion the bodies. Along with the cartilage and synovial fluid in the facet joints, the discs also provide a smooth surface to prevent vertebrae from wearing down.
Discs are formed from two types of collagen. The outer annulus has a fibrous texture that resists wear. The inner nucleus pulposus is a springy gel that absorbs shocks. The annulus wraps around the nucleus pulposus to form a cylinder-shaped disc.
The spinal canal is a passage through the spine between the bodies and processes of the vertebrae. At each facet joint, a pair of nerves exits the spinal cord and branches into a pair of nerve roots. The nerves of the spinal cord carry signals between the brain and your entire body below your neck.
What Is a Disc Injury?
Disc injuries happen when back trauma causes the discs to deform. Disc injuries typically take three forms:
You suffer a bulging disc when the fibers of the annulus weaken. The disc loses its shape and compresses. As it flattens, the circumference of the disc pushes out, forming a barrel shape instead of a cylinder.
A ruptured disc happens when the fibers of the annulus separate. The nucleus pulposus may or may not leak out. In either case, the disc loses its structural integrity and deforms when the fibers of the annulus no longer hold together.
You have a herniated disc when it ruptures, and the nucleus pulposus protrudes. The disc loses its ability to support your spine when the nucleus pulposus herniates like this. The herniation also deforms the disc. But rather than having a flat pancake shape like a bulging disc, a herniated disc has a lump on its side.
What Can Cause a Disc Injury?
Herniated discs can happen naturally due to disc degeneration. Disc degeneration occurs when the discs dry out with age because the dried-out fibers are more prone to deforming or separating.
Trauma can also injure the discs. The primary mechanism that damages discs comes from compression forces. When your vertebrae compress the discs, the force can damage the fibers of the annulus and cause the nucleus pulposus to squeeze out.
Car accidents are a leading cause of disc injuries. In a car accident, your head and upper body whip back and forth. As you whip forward, your spine stretches slightly as the vertebrae separate. When your body reverses direction, the spine compresses, and the vertebrae crush the discs. In some cases, this crushing force deforms the disc.
Disc injuries can also happen in other types of accidents. Slip and fall accidents, for example, cause a similar whipping motion when you hyperextend your spine as you fall backward, then compress it when you hit the ground.
What Are the Symptoms of Bulging and Herniated Discs?
You will suffer two types of symptoms when you injure your discs. First, you will experience back pain and instability. When a disc compresses, your spine shortens and pulls everything in your back out of place. The muscles and tendons suffer strains as they hyperextend. The ligaments enclosing the facet joints also get pulled and sprained.
The damage to these structures can cause symptoms such as:
- Weakness and muscle spasms
Second, the deformed disc can compress the nerve roots. Compressed nerve roots experience inflammation that causes the nerves to misfire. As a result, you could experience symptoms in the body parts connected to the nerve roots even though they were unharmed. For example, a herniated or bulging disc in your lower back could cause symptoms in your legs.
Compressed nerve roots can cause symptoms in your limbs or head, such as:
- Paralysis and loss of fine motor control
In many cases, the nerve damage symptoms from a herniated disc will cause more serious disabilities than the back injury symptoms.
Treatment of Bulging or Herniated Discs
Doctors cannot rebuild deformed discs. Instead, they have two primary treatment options. First, your doctor can inject anti-inflammatory drugs, like corticosteroids, near the compressed nerve root. As the inflammation subsides, the nerve damage symptoms dissipate.
Second, your doctor can remove the deformed disc pressing on your nerve root. After the discectomy, the doctor can replace the disc with an artificial disc. Alternatively, the doctor can fuse the vertebrae surrounding the missing disc using plates and screws.
Fusion can relieve the symptoms caused by the bulging or herniated disc. But it also places additional stress on the remaining vertebrae and discs. This stress increases the likelihood that you will need physical therapy or even additional back surgery as more discs get damaged.
Can I Get Injury Compensation For Herniated Discs?
You can get compensation for herniated discs that resulted from someone else’s culpable behavior. To prove liability, you must show that the other party’s actions intentionally or negligently injured you.
After you prove liability, you must prove your losses. You can get compensation for economic losses like your medical bills for treatment and therapy and your lost wages. You can also get compensation for non-economic losses like the pain you suffered and disabilities you developed.
A bulging or herniated disc can cause symptoms that radiate beyond your back. As a result, you might suffer pain, weakness, and other problems that disable you from working or even resting comfortably. Contact the Law Offices of Mathys & Schneid for a free consultation to discuss your herniated discs and the compensation you may seek under Illinois law.