Along with a broken back, a damaged disc is one of the most disheartening diagnoses you can receive after an accident. Discs sit between vertebrae. When they get damaged, doctors have few options to restore your pre-accident strength and flexibility.
Worse yet, the symptoms of a bulging or herniated disc can last for the rest of your life. As a result, the damaged disc could leave you unable to work or even attend to your daily needs.
Here are some facts you should know about herniated discs and the compensation to which you may be entitled.
Your spine gets its structure from the vertebrae and the discs. The vertebrae are made of bone. They have cylindrical bodies and wing-shaped processes. The gap between the body and the processes forms the spinal canal.
The discs sit between the bodies of adjacent vertebrae. They have a cylindrical shape that matches the size of the bodies of the vertebrae they separate.
Each disc has a fibrous outer shell called the annulus. The annulus surrounds a gel-like interior called the nucleus.
The discs serve the following functions:
- Cushion the spine
- Provide flexibility to the back
- Prevent vertebrae from grinding
The discs perform these functions by providing a smooth, flexible, and tough surface on which the vertebrae can sit.
How Bulging and Herniated Discs Happen
Disc damage can result from overuse or trauma. Overuse, even normal daily use, can cause the discs to dry out. Dry discs become brittle and lose their flexibility. They can deform or crack, particularly when subjected to repetitive stresses.
Trauma can damage discs in a few ways, including penetration or compression.
A penetrating object can pierce the spine. If it hits a vertebra, the object might deflect. But since the discs have a fibrous shell, the object can enter the disc and pull the fibers apart.
The most common disc injury comes from compression of the disc. In an accident, your back will twist and bend under the force of the collision. This will happen whether you have a car accident, pedestrian accident, or slip and fall accident.
As your back twists and bends, your spine hyperextends. The vertebrae and discs separate slightly. When your back rebounds after the accident, the vertebrae and discs smash into each other. This compression can fracture vertebrae and crush discs.
Types of Disc Injuries
When discs get damaged, they can deform. The two primary forms of deformation in discs include:
A disc herniates when the fibers of the annulus separate and allow the nucleus to leak out. The herniated nucleus forms a bump on the side of the disc.
A disc normally has a cylindrical shape. Overuse or a compression force can cause the fibers to weaken. As a result, the disc compresses into a barrel shape instead of a cylinder.
There are two important differences between a herniated disc and a bulging disc.
A herniated disc has a bump at the herniation, while a bulging disc usually bulges around its entire circumference.
The fibers of the annulus separate in a herniated disc, but they remain intact in a bulging disc.
Whether due to a bulge or herniation, the protrusion causes back instability and irritates nearby tissue, causing pain.
Symptoms of Bulging and Herniated Discs
The main symptom of a damaged disc is pain. The protrusion can press on nerves in your back, causing them to inflame. When they inflame, the nerves produce pain signals.
But the greater danger is that the disc protrudes into the spinal canal. When the protrusion compresses the spinal cord, it can cause a spinal cord injury.
If your damaged disc compresses your spinal cord, it can cause the nerves in the spinal cord to inflame. When nerves inflame, they can lose nerve signals or misfire.
Nerves carry control signals and sensory signals. Control signals tell your body what to do. They can trigger voluntary actions, like moving the muscles in your fingers to tie a knot. They can also trigger involuntary actions, like moving the muscles surrounding your intestines to push food through your digestive system.
Sensory signals provide information from your body to your brain. These signals can pass information about pressure, pain, temperature, and other sensations experienced by the body.
Some symptoms of a spinal cord compressed by a bulging or herniated disc include:
- Numbness or tingling
- Burning sensation
- Loss of dexterity
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
The location of the symptoms depends on the location of your injury. A herniated disc in your neck will often cause symptoms in your shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers. A herniated disc in your lower back will usually affect your hips, legs, feet, and toes.
Doctors do not have many good options for treating a bulging or herniated disc. They can try to treat the symptoms of the damaged disc without surgery. By injecting corticosteroids into the spine, doctors can reduce the inflammation and as a result, relieve the symptoms.
But if the nerves do not respond to the injections, doctors may recommend surgery. Surgeons can remove the damaged disc and either replace it with an artificial disc or fuse the adjacent vertebrae together.
Surgery can relieve the pressure on the spinal cord. But the removal of the disc can deprive your spine of its flexibility and can increase the stress on the vertebrae.
Compensation for Bulging and Herniated Discs
If you suffered a damaged disc in an accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you should seek compensation for your injury. If you can prove negligence, you can seek compensation for your economic and non-economic losses.
Your economic losses include your hard costs. Medical costs, lost income, and diminished earning capacity all qualify as economic losses.
Your non-economic losses include all of the ways your injury diminished your quality of life. Non-economic losses include your physical pain, mental suffering, inconvenience, and inability to participate in activities.
Bulging and herniated discs can cause chronic pain and permanent disabilities. You might lose the ability to walk, sit, or lift without pain. This could leave you unable to work or even dress, bathe, and drive.