Back trauma can lead to many different types of back injuries. Damaged back muscles, tendons, and ligaments can cause pain, swelling, and stiffness.
But one of the worst back injuries, short of breaking your back, is a bulging or herniated disc. The symptoms of bulging and herniated disc injuries can start with pain in your back or neck and radiate into your arms, legs, and head.
Here is an overview of how herniated disc injuries happen and what kinds of compensation you can seek for their effects.
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What Is the Structure and Function of Your Spine
Your spine is a miracle of nature. It can support your body weight but still twist and bend. To accomplish these contradictory functions, your spine includes 24 vertebral bones that can reconfigure themselves as needed.
Your vertebrae can stack on top of each other to transfer body weight to your hips and legs. In this configuration, the vertebrae work together to form a strong spinal column. Your back muscles pull the vertebrae out of alignment with bending to twisting forces. As a result, your back curves or turns around its central axis.
Flexible discs sit between the vertebrae that allow movement. The discs are formed from collagen, which gives the discs a similar texture to cartilage. The collagen makes the discs tough but flexible.
The discs include an outer fibrous shell called the annulus. The annulus surrounds a softer interior called the nucleus. The outer annulus provides a tough but smooth surface on which the vertebrae move. The inner nucleus provides a springy cushion for the vertebrae.
Your vertebrae provide structure, and the discs provide flexibility. Together, they allow the back to withstand standing, sitting, walking, jumping, bending, and twisting.
Each vertebra has processes that provide an anchor point for tendons and ligaments. These ligaments hold the vertebrae together and keep the discs in place.
What Are Bulging and Herniated Disc Injuries?
Back trauma and degeneration can cause the discs to deform. When they deform, they usually deform in one of three ways:
Bulging discs happen when the annulus weakens, but the fibers do not separate, causing the disc to sag from a cylinder shape into a barrel shape.
Herniated discs happen when the annulus weakens, and the fibers separate on its side wall. Pressure on the disc from your vertebrae squeezes the nucleus out through the separated fibers like toothpaste getting squeezed out of a toothpaste tube.
Ruptured discs happen when the annulus weakens, and the fibers separate on its top or bottom surfaces. Since the annulus fibers run around the disc, the damage makes the disc appear to have separated into layers.
What Can Cause a Herniated Disc Injury?
Herniated discs occur in three main ways:
An impact on your back can cause the discs to deform. For example, if you slip and fall, the impact between your spine and the ground can weaken the discs enough to deform.
Compression forces on your discs can cause them to deform. These compression forces can come from falls or falling objects that hit you.
But one of the most common disc compression sources is car accidents. In a collision, your seat and seat belt restrain your body. But as your seat belt tightens, your body arches forward. This causes your vertebrae to separate, hyperextending your spine.
When you come to a stop, your ligaments pull your vertebrae together, compressing your spine. The dual motion of hyperextension and compression can crush your discs and cause them to deform.
As you age, your discs dry out, and the damage caused by years of standing, walking, running, and jumping accumulates. The dry, weakened annulus can break down under stress, causing the disc to deform.
What Are the Symptoms of Herniated Disc Injuries?
When your discs weaken and deform, your back loses some of its strength. Your spine might feel unstable, and your back may feel painful and stiff and lose some range of motion. However, the debilitating symptoms of herniated discs come from nerve injuries near the deformed disc.
Your spinal cord carries all the nerves connecting your brain to your body. The spinal cord travels through a passage in your spine. At each vertebra, the spinal cord branches out into nerve roots. Each nerve root carries a bundle of nerves for a region of your body. For example, a nerve root in your lower back carries nerves for your right hip, right leg, and right foot.
When a disc deforms, the protrusion from the herniation, bulge, or rupture can compress a nearby nerve root. Compressed nerves cannot carry nerve signals correctly. And compressed nerves become irritated, triggering inflammation and swelling. The swelling, in turn, compresses more nerves.
The irritation and inflammation cause the nerves to misfire, sending pain signals that seem to come from an uninjured area. This is why a herniated disc can cause pain in your extremities, even though they are uninjured.
Symptoms of a nerve injury from a herniated disc include:
- Radiating pain
- Numbness or tingling in the extremities
- Muscle weakness
Doctors cannot repair a deformed disc. They can treat the inflammation caused by the deformed disc. This can relieve some of the nerve symptoms.
Removing the deformed disc is another option. The removal will relieve the pressure on the nerve root. After removing the injured disc, doctors will either replace it with an artificial one or fuse the adjacent vertebrae without a disc between them.
How Can You Get Compensation for a Herniated Disc Injury?
If doctors perform back surgery, you’ll likely face huge medical costs and months of rehabilitation and therapy. If doctors do not operate, you could suffer from chronic back pain for the rest of your life. In either case, you have substantial damages from your injury.
You can seek compensation for herniated disc injuries that resulted from someone else’s negligence. To discuss the compensation you can seek for your herniated disc injuries, such as financial costs and impact on your quality of life, contact WGK Personal Injury Lawyers for a free consultation at (410) 837-2144.