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Why do Disc Herniation Injuries Result in Pain After Accidents?

Why do Disc Herniation Injuries Result in Pain After Accidents?

spine demonstration doctor hands showing model spine patient healthcare disc vertebrae

Disc herniation after an accident can cause loss of quality of life due to the intense pain and immobility it causes victims. Within this Shaked Law Firm article we’ll provide the information needed to fully understand the painful reality of severe disc herniation injuries. We’ll also discuss the injuries that result from disc herniation such as cauda equina syndrome (CES).

It’s important to understand the lengths those with severe pain and suffering may go to achieve relief. From prescription pain medication to undergoing surgical procedures, those who suffer back injuries can attest it’s not only extremely painful but diminishes quality of life.

Disclaimer: Any symptoms always require a consultation with a licensed medical professional. One should never rely on articles found via the internet when making important legal or medical decisions. This article will not replace the advice of a doctor or seeking advice from a lawyer about the specifics of your case.

Why are disc herniation, back, and spine injuries so serious?

Within our Florida Personal Injury practice we see an endless list of injuries that affect our clients and cause them irreparable harm. Sometimes injuries make things in a client’s daily life impossible to manage. From workplace injuries to medical malpractice, there is no way to determine which injury is the most painful. Due to the nature of Personal Injury Law, we see clients at their worst. As a result, a lot of the time the worst is unimaginable pain. Each injury clients suffer is unique and requires specific legal advice.

This is why an injury that affects the back and spine, such as a herniated disc, should never just be considered “back pain”. This diminishes the extent of the injury and the pain and suffering the victim endures. In severe cases, herniated discs can be as painful as a Spinal Cord Injury. Both injuries cause nerve damage, resulting in loss of function. These injuries may require extensive surgery to repair. Usually, with proper medical attention the herniated disc can receive adequate treatment with the patient seeing some pain relief. However, recovery is lengthy, so a percentage of those suffering never experience complete healing.

What happens when an employee sustains a workplace injury?

Sometimes employees suffer disc herniation injuries while on the job due to unsafe work conditions or lack of oversight. These workers find themselves losing their paycheck and surviving on minimal workman’s compensation benefits. If the injury results in damage to the nerves of the neck or spine, recovery may never be fully achieved. Read more: Employer liability in Florida Personal Injury claims?

Our vertebrae (bones of the spine) are protected by “rubbery” or “jelly-like” cushions between each one. A disc herniation can be a problem with the “jelly-like” cushions acting as shock absorbency for the spine.

What are the symptoms of disc herniation?

When doctors reference a patient having a “herniated disc”, it’s difficult to visualize exactly what that means. Our vertebrae (bones of the spine) are protected by “rubbery” or “jelly-like” cushions between each one. A disc herniation can be a problem with the “jelly-like” cushions acting as shock absorbency for the 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 disc injuries.

Learn more: Mayo Clinic and spine injury, diseases, and conditions

Other symptoms of herniated discs

  • Pain in the extremities. After sustaining disc herniation in the lower back there is typically intense, burning pain in the buttocks, calf, thigh, or all three. In extreme cases, the feet may become involved as well. However, if the herniation is in the neck, it’s most likely the victim suffers pain in the shoulders and arms. Patients say this pain feels like it’s “shooting”. They report 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 disc . Numbness or tingling in the extremities can be uncomfortable. The cause is usually due to impingement or inflammation of the nerves.
  • Muscle weakness: nerves provide strength to muscles, and therefore when they become inflamed by a herniated disc injury, the victim may suffer muscle weakness and atrophy (deterioration of muscle due to inability or lack of use). Those who become affected by muscle weakness or atrophy due to a herniated disc may be at-risk for falls, and must take care when using stairs or attempting to stand up, as well reduce the risk of further injuries by limiting other tasks such as getting in or out of the bathtub without assistance from a grab bar or shower chair.

What causes disc herniation injuries?

Mayo Clinic states that “disc herniation is most often the result of a gradual, aging-related wear and tear called disc degeneration”. It can be inferred from this medical evidence that herniated disks are part of the normal aging process, and 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 required. Read more: Why is Diagnostic Imaging Necessary Post Accident?

What are some other risk factors for back and spine injuries?

Despite disc degeneration being part of the aging process, there are factors putting a percentage of the population at high risk for sustaining disc herniation.

Stages to a disc herniation. Normal, Degeneration, Prolapse, Extrusion, Sequestration

Most people can’t remember exactly how they sustain their back injury outside of situations such as auto accidents or workplace injuries. There are several other risk factors.

  • Occupational hazards: the percentage of the population with physically demanding jobs are at the highest risk for disc herniation. Jobs that require heavy lifting, pushing, pulling, and bending all come with the risk of injury. Rarely, work accidents that cause a direct hit to the spine can cause herniated discs and other severe spinal injuries.
  • Excess weight gain: being overweight can put extra stress on the discs of the lumbar region of the spine. This causes a higher risk of herniation. Usually, symptom relief comes from proper exercise or physical therapy. These attempt to relieve pressure on the lumbar spine.
  • Hereditary and genetic factors: heredity and genetics can also play a role in spinal injuries. Genetics leave people more susceptible to disc herniation and other co-morbidities. While extremely rare, it’s worth noting that a form of inflammatory arthritis called Ankylosing Spondylitis can cause “bulging” discs. This illness occurs without any spine injury in the patient’s medical history. Often, it leads to disc herniation without intervention.

What happens when complications or disc herniation arise?

The spinal cord stops just short of the lumbar region. It ends just below the waist, the spinal cord tapers off into a group of nerve roots (“cauda equina”). If disc herniation is severe enough, it compresses these nerve bundles and emergency surgery may be necessary for decompression.

What is cauda equina syndrome?

The American Association of Neurological Surgeons explains cauda equina syndrome (CES) as:

“[…]Cauda equina syndrome (CES) occurs when the nerve roots of the cauda equina are compressed and disrupt motor and sensory function to the lower extremities and bladder. Patients with this syndrome are often admitted to the hospital as a medical emergency. CES can lead to incontinence and even permanent paralysis.”

What happens when symptoms of disc herniation worsen?

  • Pain, weakness, muscle atrophy in affected extremities
  • Bowel or bladder dysfunction. People who experience a level of paralysis with disc herniation may find bladder or bowel control is weak due to compression of nerve roots in the spine. Difficulty or inability to urinate may also be a symptom that requires emergency medical attention.
  • Saddle anesthesia. This phenomenon includes progressive loss of function and affects the areas of the body that one uses when sitting on a “saddle”. These areas include inner thighs, area around the buttocks, and back of the legs.

For worsening weakness, paralysis, or anything that feels wrong, contact a physician immediately or go straight to the ER.

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