Why Are Back Injuries a Cause for Concern?
Within the scope of Personal Injury Law we see endless injuries that affect our clients. These injuries cause irreparable harm, making daily life impossible to live fully. Medical Malpractice. Car accidents. Motorcycle accidents. Traumatic Brain Injury. There isn’t one specific injury that’s “the most painful”. The “pain” in “pain and suffering” is unique to each client. These injuries cause innumerable symptoms, sometimes leaving clients bed bound or in a wheelchair for long periods of time.
Injuries not discussed frequently but causes a great deal of pain for accident victims, are back injuries. Within this Shaked Law Resource article we’ll provide information readers must have to fully understand the painful reality of back injuries.
What is a herniated disk?
First, let’s look at a very common back injury known as a “herniated disk”.
Our vertebrae (bones of the spine) are protected by “rubbery” or “jelly-like” cushions between each one. In a herniated disk injury, this can be in reference to a problem with one of those “jelly-like” cushions that act as a shock absorber for our spine. A herniation can cause irritation to the spinal nerves which can in turn cause a great deal of pain. However, pain isn’t the only symptom found in herniated disk injuries.
A herniated disk is not just “back pain”. In severe cases, it can be as painful as a spinal cord injury and may require extensive surgery to repair. Usually, with proper medical attention the herniated disk can be treated, and the patient will feel some pain relief. However, the recovery is lengthy, and a large percentage of sufferers never experience total relief of their symptoms.
Other symptoms of herniated disk can include but are not limited to:
- Pain in the extremities. When a patient herniates a disk in their lower back (lumbar region) it’s typical to feel intense, burning pain in the buttocks, calf, or thigh. In extreme cases, the feet may be involved as well. However, if a patient herniates a disk in their neck (cervical spine), they’ll most likely suffer pain in the shoulders and arms. Patients describe this pain as “shooting”. It can lessen or worsen when changing positions.
- Numbness or a tingling sensation in the hands or feet. This is a common symptom of a herniated disk; numbness or tingling in the affected extremities can be uncomfortable, and is caused by impingement or inflammation of the affected nerves.
- Muscle weakness. Nerves provide strength to muscles, and therefore when they become inflamed by a herniated disk injury, patients may suffer muscle weakness and atrophy (deterioration of muscle).
Causes of back injuries are widespread
Mayo Clinic states that when it comes to back injuries “disk herniation is most often the result of a gradual, aging-related wear and tear called disk degeneration”. Disk herniations are the most common form of back injury. However, we can also conclude from this medical evidence that herniated disks can be part of the normal aging process. Outside of an accident resulting in back and spine injuries, they are not always a cause for concern. A medical professional can advise a patient with certainty after diagnostic imaging such as an MRI or CT scan whether or not further medical intervention may be necessary for any type of back pain.
On the job injuries
Workers who suffer a back injury may find themselves facing lost wages. Without an experienced Personal Injury lawyer representing them, these workers must survive on workman’s compensation benefits throughout their recovery. As a result, their workplace accident may leave them in financial distress. This distress can turn to mental anguish, further isolating the victim from the life they once knew.
When back injuries become “high risk”
Despite disk degeneration being part and parcel of the aging process, there are several factors that put a percentage of the population at a higher risk. Outside of accidents, most people can’t remember exactly how they sustained their back injury.
Thus, the risk factors that physicians often look at are:
- Excess weight gain. Being overweight (and lack of exercise) puts extra stress on the disks of the lumbar region of the spine. Thus, there’s a higher risk for disk herniation. Usually, this can be relieved with proper exercise or targeted physical therapy for the lumbar spine.
- Occupational hazards. The percentage of the population with physically demanding jobs are those with the highest risk for disk herniation. Thus, jobs that require heavy lifting, pushing, pulling, and bending all come with the risk of back injury. Sometimes, work accidents that cause a direct hit to the spine cause disk herniation.
- Hereditary and genetic factors. Heredity and genetics play a role in spinal injuries, leaving people more susceptible to herniated disks and other associated co-morbidities. In extremely rare cases, a form of auto-immune arthritis called Ankylosing Spondylitis can cause degeneration and “bulging” disks in the spine, leading to herniation.
What are the complications of back injuries post accident?
The spinal cord doesn’t extent into the lumbar region. It’s just below the waist where the spinal cord veers off into a group of nerve roots (“cauda equina”). Furthermore, if an injury such as a disk herniation is severe enough, it may compress these nerve roots and emergency surgery may be necessary for decompression. If patients experience worsening weakness or paralysis, they are always advised to contact their physician immediately. In the worst case scenarios, patients should go straight to the ER.
Worsening symptoms that should not be ignored include but are not limited to:
- Pain, weakness, muscle atrophy in affected extremities
- Bowel or bladder dysfunction: people who experience a level of paralysis with a herniated disk may find their bladder or bowel control is lessened. This is due to compression of the nerve roots in the spine. Difficulty or inability to urinate may also be a symptom that requires emergency medical attention.
- Saddle anesthesia: this phenomenon is known for its progressive loss of function and affects the areas of the body that one uses when sitting on a “saddle”–inner thighs, the area around the buttocks, and the back of the legs.
What are other common back injuries to be aware of?
There are several other serious types of back injury that are important to understand the symptoms of.
Other back injuries that can cause extreme pain and require immediate medical attention:
- Spinal Cord Injuries. In the worst case scenarios, these injuries can cause permanent paralysis in victims. Either due to a direct blow to the spine or broken vertebrae, SCI are extremely dangerous. Nonetheless, when caught early, doctors may be able to restore feeling in extremities. Using new technology such as spinal cord stimulators, there is more hope than ever for those who suffer Spinal Cord Injuries in accidents each year.
- Spondylolithesis injuries usually occur in the low back (lumbar region). These could be strains, sprains, but can also be broken vertebrae (without spinal cord involvement). Normally these injuries are treated and the patient can fully recover.
- Cervical Radiculopathy injuries usually occur in the cervical spine (neck region). Injuries that cause disks to rupture or bone to degenerate are usually the cause. Although, in young people, accidents that cause disks to rupture can compress nerve roots. These injuries can leave the victim in extreme pain.
What are treatments for back injuries?
Finally, in most cases, back injuries are treatable. Strains, sprains, and muscle stiffness can be treated with a combination of pain medication and physical therapy. These injuries often do not require any surgical intervention. Herniated disks are monitored by a specialist. Surgical intervention for disk herniation is only necessary should distressing symptoms arise. In cases of Spinal Cord Injury, though, surgical intervention is what saves a patient’s life. Each back injury is unique, and treatment is provided based on the symptoms a patient is presenting.
Accident victims may have to go to great lengths achieve pain relief after an accident. They often try everything: from prescription pain medication to undergoing surgical procedures. In order to relieve symptoms, those who suffer a back injury can attest that it’s not only extremely painful, but prevents them from living life again.
Any medical symptoms should always be discussed with a licensed medical professional. One should never rely on articles found via the internet when making important medical decisions. This article is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Shaked Law Firm is a Personal Injury law firm in Miami, Florida offering the most experience in Spinal Cord Injury accident representation.