A car crash and resulting injuries can change your life permanently. When a collision means injuries resulting in significant, ongoing pain and an inability to live your normal life, the difficulties you face can feel insurmountable.
Herniated discs after an accident deserve special mention because back and neck injuries of all types frequently arise from car crashes. These injuries often translate into ongoing struggles with debilitating pain. Even collisions that seemed minor at the time can mean situations requiring medical intervention to stop the hurting, muscle weakness, and numbness.
Understanding Herniated Discs
It’s been reported that over 70 percent of persons who went to the ER after a crash were still experiencing pain as long as six weeks later. The forces exerted in an accident create pressure on your spine. Sometimes that pressure pulls your discs out of place, tearing them. A herniated disc results when the disc’s outer layer rips, leaking fluid that puts pressure on nerves, causing pain and numbness.
Discs are “spongy” and serve to protect the vertebrae in your spine by absorbing impacts, thus helping to prevent fractured spines. But disc injuries in and of themselves can be serious. Herniated discs can result in the following symptoms:
- A herniated disc in your neck (cervical spine) can mean pain in your neck, shoulder blade, arm and fingers, as well as muscle spasms.
- A herniated disc in your midback (thoracic spine) can mean muscle weakness, tingling or numbness, muscle spasms, changes to your bowel or bladder habits, or even waist-down paralysis.
- A herniated disc in your lower back (lumbar spine) can mean pain radiating down into your legs as far as your feet, muscle weakness, tingling or numbness, muscle spasms, and losing the reflexes in your legs.
Even if your disc damage doesn’t necessitate surgery, pain and disability can still linger for years.
Bulging Discs and Herniated Discs
Medical opinion can be divided over whether herniated discs and bulging discs are the same thing. However, most medical sources believe that a herniated disc is marked by a tear or rupture of the disc, while a bulging disc has no tear or rupture. Either condition can create problems impacting your life. The important takeaway is that both medical conditions can bring about serious consequences for the crash victim.
Diagnosing Herniated Discs
Your doctor is likely to ask you a lot of questions, including the circumstances leading to the injury, where you experience pain, numbness, muscle weakness, and whether you have had any other symptoms. He or she will also ask you about bladder or bowel control. It’s important not to be shy about such questions; a loss of control can mean a medical emergency demanding immediate surgery.
Usually the doctor will order lab tests to confirm a diagnosis. Herniated discs are usually seen best using an MRI. However, sometimes an X-ray of your spine will be needed to rule out damage to the bones. A CT scan, often combined with a myelogram (where an injected dye is used to pinpoint injuries), may be needed to provide additional information about the injury.
Depending on a victim’s health insurance and financial resources, the costs of tests can place a significant strain on a family’s budget.
Treatments for Herniated Discs
Initial treatment of herniated discs is frequently conservative, meaning rest, anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs such as ibuprofen), and physical therapy. But if the pain is not alleviated, or if muscle weakness or numbness is a problem, surgery may be recommended.
Spinal surgery should not be entered into lightly. Surgical error is widespread: in 2008, half of spinal surgeons admitted to operating on the wrong disc or vertebra. Still, some damage can only be corrected with surgical intervention. Herniated disc surgeries include the following procedures:
- Laminectomy: the back portion of a vertebra is completely removed, making the spinal canal bigger and reducing pressure on spinal nerves.
- Laminotomy: only part of the lamina is removed.
- Discectomy: the damaged portion of the disc is removed. This surgery is generally recommended only when the patient experiences significant pain or weakness that radiates to the rest of the body.
- Spinal fusion: Two or more vertebrae may be fused in order to create spinal stability after a disc is removed.
Spinal surgery often entails a lengthy recovery during which you will not be able to work or carry out your normal responsibilities. Surgical complications can include nerve damage, infection, and, in some unfortunate cases, a worsening of pain.
Herniated Discs and Car Accident Cases
A case hinges on many factors, but the following ones are more likely to bring success:
- Seeking prompt treatment. Pursuing medical care within 48 hours of your accident is positive because it links the accident to your symptoms.
- Your testimony. Telling your story can be powerful. You will need to describe the crash, your symptoms, your pain, and how you are affected every day by your injuries.
- Your doctor’s testimony. The details your doctor communicates can be crucial. The best possible scenario is when your doctor is certain your symptoms arose from the accident. Their medical diagnosis and related opinions should match what you have said concerning the crash.
- Your medical tests. Tests that your doctor ordered can illustrate your injury and show that it was not caused by a pre-existing back condition.
- Your medical history. Your medical records will show whether you have a history of back problems. You generally must establish that you had no previous back issues, or that they were mild and/or unrelated to the current injury.
- The crash’s severity. It may or may not be fair, but the more damage that occurred to the vehicles involved, the more likely it is that you will be believed.
As with any personal injury case, you must demonstrate that that other party was negligent, that their negligence led to the accident, and that their negligence directly caused your injuries.
Financial awards resulting from a winning case can vary widely because of multiple factors. In suits where the other party is negligent, it is best to consult an experienced attorney if you are suffering from ongoing pain and disability along with related financial costs. Damages that are awarded can be both economic and non-economic. “Economic damages” are things such as past and future medical bills; the cost of rehabilitation; assistive devices and prostheses; and lost wages. Typical “non-economic” damages are compensation for pain and suffering, and for mental anguish resulting from the injury.
If negligence was involved, you do not need to shoulder the entire burden that medical and related costs place on you and your family