Back pain is one of the most common health complaints by Americans. Nearly 55% of adult Americans experience back pain sometime during their lives. And 16 million have chronic back pain that limits their ability to earn a living or engage in other activities like exercise and work around the home.
Herniated discs contribute to a lot of this back pain. But worse than that, herniated discs can cause radiating nerve pain that can affect your arms, legs, and head.
Learn about the causes and effects of herniated discs and the compensation you can pursue for them.
What Is the Function of Your Spine?
Your back has 24 vertebrae. An additional nine vertebrae sit at or below your hips. The vertebrae in your back allow you to bend and twist your body. The individual vertebrae form joints with each other that permit a high degree of flexibility.
A disc sits between each pair of vertebrae. Ligaments hold the vertebrae and discs in place. Each disc has a fibrous outer shell called the annulus. The annulus gives the disc strength and structure.
The annulus surrounds a gel-like interior called the nucleus. The nucleus gives the disc its elasticity. Both the annulus and nucleus are made of collagen and have strength and flexibility similar to cartilage.
The discs perform several functions:
The discs cushion the vertebrae. The collagen material that makes up the discs absorbs shocks when you walk, run, or jump.
The discs have smooth surfaces. The vertebrae slide smoothly on these surfaces when you twist your body. The discs also separate the vertebrae so that they do not grind against each other.
The discs provide a firm but elastic surface. They can compress when you bend and rebound when you stand to provide continuous support.
What Types of Disc Injuries Can Occur?
When your discs get subjected to excessive stress, they can deform. When they deform, your spine becomes unstable because the disc cannot support the adjacent vertebrae.
The deformed disc can also press on nearby nerve roots. Your spinal cord branches out at each vertebra. These branches, called nerve roots, carry the nerves for a body region. When a deformed disc presses on a nerve root, it irritates the nerves and causes them to inflame.
Inflamed nerves can misfire. As a result, you might experience symptoms such as:
- Pain radiating from your back into your shoulders, arms, hands, hips, legs, or feet
- Numbness or tingling in your extremities
- Muscle spasms
- Loss of dexterity
Discs deform in two ways:
A herniated disc happens when the fibers of the annulus separate and the nucleus protrudes through the side of the disc.
A bulging disc occurs when the fibers remain intact but lose their strength. As a result, the disc flattens, and a bulge forms around its circumference.
What Are Some Causes of Bulging and Herniated Discs?
Discs can get damaged due to overuse or trauma. Disc damage from overuse often occurs due to working conditions that cause the discs to degenerate. When this happens, workers who develop herniated discs can often pursue workers’ compensation benefits.
These overuse injuries result from repetitive stress placed on the back. When you stress your back, your body can often heal the effects when you rest. But the damage will accumulate if you repeatedly stress your back without giving yourself time to recover. Eventually, this repeated stress will wear your discs out.
Trauma can also damage your discs. This trauma often happens due to compression forces. A slip and fall accident can compress your discs as you bend and twist before hitting the ground. In a pedestrian accident, getting hit by a car can crush your vertebrae and discs, causing the discs to herniate.
The forces involved in car accidents are particularly likely to cause disc damage. When you collide with another vehicle, your body keeps moving until it hits your seat belt. But as the seat belt restrains your chest, you bend forward. Your head pulls on your spine, hyperextending it. This hyperextension causes your vertebrae and discs to separate.
As you come to a stop, the ligaments in your spine pull your vertebrae back together. The discs and vertebrae crash into each other, compressing the discs and potentially causing them to deform.
How Do You Treat a Herniated Disc?
Doctors have limited options when treating disc injuries. They cannot repair or restore the disc directly. They can treat inflamed nerves with anti-inflammatory injections. These anti-inflammatories can reduce the symptoms by calming the irritated nerve root.
Alternatively, they can remove the disc so that it does not press on nearby nerves. Doctors can either replace the disc with an artificial disc or fuse the adjacent vertebrae.
If they replace the disc, the artificial disc will not have the flexibility or durability of your natural disc. It will wear out and may eventually bulge or dislocate, pressing on the nerve root again.
If they fuse the vertebrae, the decrease in flexibility puts additional strain on the other discs and vertebrae. As a result, you might damage the next disc and so on up your spine.
What Compensation Can You Seek for Herniated Discs?
Seeking injury compensation is possible if your discs were damaged in an accident caused by someone else’s negligence. Your compensation can cover both your economic and non-economic losses.
Economic losses are the financial impact of your injuries, including your medical bills and lost income. It can also cover your diminished earning capacity if you suffer a long-term disability due to herniated discs.
Non-economic losses include the non-financial impact of your injuries on your quality of life. Some examples of non-economic damages include pain, mental anguish, disability, and diminished enjoyment of life.
Herniated discs can cause long-term chronic back pain. Worse yet, they can compress nerve roots and interfere with your ability to use your limbs. Contact Hollander Law Firm Accident Injury Lawyers to discuss the compensation you can seek for your herniated discs on a free consultation. Call us at (561) 347-7770.