If you have suffered a herniated disc in an accident and are determining how best to proceed, your first long-term concern should be to maximize your physical recovery to the greatest extent possible. Doing so requires you to gain an understanding of your injuries and the limitations it will place on you and your activities, which requires a basic understanding of the anatomy of the human spine, vertebrae, and intervertebral discs.
The human spine is divided into three major sections of vertebrae. Consisting of seven vertebrae at the upper back and neck is the cervical spine, which houses nerves affecting hands, arms, and shoulders. Just below the cervical spine is the thoracic section, which includes twelve separate vertebrae with nerves serving the back, chest, abdomen, and portions of the arms. The lowest section, called the lumbar section, has five lumbar vertebrae and is found in a person’s lower back. The nerves in the lumbar section impact the lower back, buttocks, and legs. Forming the bottom of the spine is the sacrum, containing of separate bones, with the coccyx immediately beneath the sacrum.
The vertebrae on a spine are aligned in a vertical column that must obviously allow movement, including stretching, twisting, and compressing among others, all without compressing the nerves around the spinal column. Separating and protecting each vertebrae and the associated nerves are intervertebral discs with exterior shells called an annulus or capsule, and an jelly-like filled center called a nucleus. Healthy discs keep discs properly apart from one another and prevent vertebrae from compressing nerves.
Based on their location on the spine, the various discs are given abbreviated names consisting of a letter and number for identification. Each of the seven cervical vertebral discs, for example, is first identified with a “C” and then a number starting with one and going up to seven. So, as the discs move down the spine ,the first cervical disc is assigned C1, the second C2, then C3, C4, C5, C6, and C7. The thoracic discs then appear, starting with T1 and ending with T12, and the lumbar discs, L1, L2, L3, L4, and L5 are next, followed by the sacrum, identified as S1.
A disc herniation, protruding disc, or bulging disc occurs when a disc annulus tears, cracks, or ruptures and the disc nucleus pushes through the outer wall of the disc. Given the tight space constraints in the spine and the extensive nerves running through that space, the herniated or escaped nucleus from a disc often comes in contact with a nerve, causing compression or pinching of the nerve. When that happens, sharp and excruciating pain results, and the pain often radiates into the portions of the body served by the nerve, including the arms, legs, hands, and feet. Depending on which nerve is impacted, this shooting, sharp pain may be considered sciatica or radiculopathy.
A tear or rupture to a disc wall can occur in a number of situations, including when intense pressure or strain is exerted on one’s back to the point the pressure and strain causes a disk capsule to tear or rupture. Disc herniations, ruptures, or bulges often occur in automobile accidents, where the forces generated by collisions, especially rear-end collisions, create forces so strong that torn or ruptured discs occur.
Disc injuries are very serious injuries and they require a comprehensive medical regimen for the patient to achieve maximum medical improvement. Once a disc herniation has been identified through an MRI or CT scan, the injured patient may have no choice but to undergo extensive and invasive surgery, such as a discectomy, hemilaminectomy, or laminectomy. After that, the patient will have to undergo a comprehensive physical therapy regimen to regain strength, mobility, and flexibility.
If you have suffered disc-related injuries in an accident due to someone else’s fault, you will have a long and expensive road to recovery. You may also be entitled to compensation for your losses by making a claim against the insurance company of the other driver to help offset some of the losses you suffered. To get a better idea regarding how you should proceed if you have grounds for a lawsuit, please see Jonathan Wren’s valuable Blawg series on What you Should do if You Have Been Injured in an Accident, including When You Should Hire an Attorney, How to Pay for an Attorney, and Understanding Statutes of Limitations. MartinWren, P.C. attorney Robert Byrne has experience with disc injury matters and would be happy to speak with you if you or a relative have suffered a disc injury. For more information, please contact Bob at (434) 817-3100 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robert E. Byrne, Jr., the author of this post, is a trial lawyer who serves as managing attorney of MartinWren, P.C. Named the Virginia State Bar’s Young Lawyer of the Year for 2010, Bob has also been recognized as a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers Magazine in Business Litigation and as a member of MartinWren’s Charlottesville Personal Injury Lawyers group, an honor reserved for just 2.5% of the eligible attorneys in Virginia. To see Bob’s AVVO profile, please click here. To contact Bob about such potentially catastrophic injuries as a disc herniation or bulging disc, please call (434) 817-3100 or send an email to email@example.com.