Your body depends heavily on your spine. The spine holds your body up and guides it as it bends and twists. It also protects the nerves inside your spinal cord. These nerves connect your brain to your body.
A common spine injury happens when the discs get deformed. When the discs rupture or bulge — or herniate — they can press on nearby nerve roots, leading to debilitating symptoms that can prevent you from walking, working, or even sitting.
If you have suffered a herniated disc, it can be helpful to understand more about disc injuries and what you can do to seek compensation for them.
What Is the Structure and Function of Your Spine?
Your spine has 24 vertebrae. You have seven vertebrae in your neck, twelve in your upper back and chest, and five in your lower back. The vertebrae support your back while also giving it flexibility.
Specifically, the individual vertebrae allow the spine to bend and twist. If your spine was a single solid rod, you would not bend over or turn your body.
Two joints allow the spine to flex smoothly. Cartilage lines the ends of the processes that protrude from each vertebra. These processes press on each other, creating facet joints. This cartilage allows the vertebra to move smoothly as you bend.
Discs sit between each pair of vertebrae. These discs interface with the surfaces of the bodies of the vertebrae to create another joint. The discs have a fibrous outer shell, called an annulus. The annulus supports the adjacent vertebrae and allows them to move smoothly.
The nucleus sits inside the annulus. The nucleus has a gel consistency that provides cushioning for the adjacent vertebrae as you stand, walk, run, or jump.
What Types of Deformed Discs Can Occur?
The term “herniated disc” is often used as a generic term for all deformed discs. But disc injuries can take many forms, including:
When the discs get damaged, the fibers of the annulus can separate. The separated fibers allow the nucleus to squeeze out of the annulus. A herniated disc has a bump on its side where the nucleus has protruded.
Bulging discs happen when the disc’s annulus weakens but remains intact. Pressure on the nucleus causes the weakened annulus to flatten and sag. You can imagine a bulging disc as a cylinder with walls that have bowed outward into a barrel shape.
Ruptured discs are similar to herniated discs. But instead of weakening on the sides of the disc, the fibers of a ruptured disc separate on its top or bottom. This causes the nucleus to burst out of the disc’s upper or lower surfaces instead of its side.
What Can Cause a Herniated Disc?
The primary cause of disc injuries is spine compression. During an accident, the vertebrae can compress the discs. The discs deform under the pressure, leading to herniated, bulging, or ruptured discs.
Degenerative disc disease can contribute to disc deformation. As you age, your discs naturally dry out. This makes the discs less flexible and more prone to damage. When you get into an accident that compresses your discs, the degeneration can cause the discs to tear or sag.
Many accidents can compress the spine, such as car accidents. As you whip around during an auto collision, your spine hyperextends. The vertebrae separate, and small gaps form between the vertebrae and discs. When you come to a stop, the vertebrae compress so violently that they can deform the discs.
Falls can also damage the discs. When you strike the ground after a fall, the discs get compressed. More importantly, your body will probably not hit the ground squarely. Instead, your body will hit the ground at an angle, pinching one end of the disc. This pinching can deform the disc.
What Are the Symptoms of a Herniated Disc?
A herniated disc will cause pain and instability in your back. The discs cushion your vertebrae. When they deform, the vertebrae, as well as the ligaments and tendons attached to them, experience more pressure than normal.
But more seriously, the deformed discs can press on nearby nerve roots. As it passes through the spine, the spinal cord branches into nerve roots. When a disc herniates, bulges, or ruptures, the protrusion can compress these nerve roots.
When nerves get compressed, they become irritated and inflamed. The irritation causes the nerves to drop signals or misfire.
This causes symptoms that can include:
- Pain that radiates from the back into the limbs
- Numbness and tingling
- Electric shock sensations
- Muscle spasms
Doctors have few options when dealing with deformed discs. Doctors can treat the nerve inflammation directly using injections of anti-inflammatory drugs into the back. This can reduce the symptoms but will provide only temporary relief.
Your doctor can also remove the ruptured, bulging, or herniated disc. After removal, the doctor can replace the disc with an artificial disc. Alternatively, the doctor can fuse the vertebrae surrounding the removed disc using plates and screws. In either case, the surgery stabilizes the spine and removes the disc impinging on the nerve root.
But this surgery is risky. You could suffer nerve damage from this surgery. And even if the surgery is successful, the removal of the disc places additional stress on the vertebrae adjacent to the removed disc. As a result, you might need further surgeries as the damage to your spine spreads to other vertebrae and discs.
How Can You Get Compensation for Herniated Discs?
When you suffer a disc injury due to someone else’s negligence, you can pursue a personal injury claim against them. The damages you can recover in a negligence claim can include both economic and non-economic losses.
Economic damages include all your costs associated with the injury. Examples of economic losses include past and future medical expenses and lost income.
Non-economic damages cover all ways your injuries diminished your quality of life. These losses do not come with a price tag but nonetheless affect you. Some examples include pain, mental anguish, and disability.
Ruptured, bulging, and herniated discs can produce lifelong back problems. Since 1996, the legal team at Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers has fought to help accident victims receive the justice they deserve. To discuss your disc injuries and the compensation you can seek for them, contact us at Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers for a free consultation by calling (727) 787-2500.