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Herniated Disks and Car Accidents

Herniated Disks and Car AccidentsMany car accidents in Phoenix cause herniated disks and other spine injuries. Even with seat belts and airbags, a low-impact crash can cause your back and neck to twist and endure severe stress. A high-speed accident is even more likely to cause severe spinal damage. The disk separates your back bones from your vertebrae. Disk injuries are hard to treat, and many car accident victims who have a disk injury require long-term rehabilitative therapy and live with a lifetime of pain.

At Plattner Verderame, P.C., our seasoned personal injury lawyers work with your doctors and our own network of experts to verify that you have a herniated disk, to understand all the medical care you’ll need now and in the future, and all the ways your injury is affecting every part of your life. We seek compensation for your medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, property damage, and any other damage that Arizona law permits.

What is a herniated disk?

The Mayo Clinic states that a herniated disk:

Refers to a problem with one of the rubbery cushions (disks) that sit between the bones (vertebrae) that stack to make your spine. A spinal disk has a soft, jellylike center (nucleus) encased in a tougher, rubbery exterior (annulus). Sometimes called a slipped disk or a ruptured disk, a herniated disk occurs when some of the nucleus pushes out through a tear in the annulus.

The most common location for a herniated disk is the lower back, though a herniated disk can occur anywhere along the spine. The symptoms can range from very minor pain to excruciating pain. Common symptoms include:

  • Pain along one side of the body.
  • Herniated disks in the lower back generally cause pain in your thigh, calf, and buttocks. Foot pain is also possible.
  • Herniated disks in the neck generally cause pain in your arm and shoulder. When you cough, sneeze, or move in a certain way, you may have a shooting pain in your arm or leg. Patients often describe this type of herniated disk pain as burning or sharp.
  • Tingling or numbness. Herniated disk pain includes a “radiating numbness or tingling in the body part served by the affected nerves.”
  • The muscles that serve the affected spinal nerves can weaken, causing patients with a herniated disk to fall or cause an inability to lift or hold items.

It’s always a good idea to be examined at an emergency room after an accident. If you have pain down your arm or leg – or if you’re experiencing tingling, weakness, or numbness – you should see your family doctor or go to the nearest ER.

Passengers and drivers who have extra weight, lead a sedentary lifestyle, or sit for long periods of time (such as driving long distances) have an increased risk of developing a herniated disk due to injury or other causes.

A serious complication from having a herniated disk is that the disk can compress the entire spinal canal, including the long nerve roots of the canal that resemble a horse’s tail (called the cauda equina). Emergency surgery may be necessary to avoid permanent weakness or paralysis.

Additional symptoms include pain and numbness that impairs your ability to perform your daily activities and work, incontinence, difficulty urinating, bowel dysfunction, and “saddle anesthesia.” Saddle anesthesia is “the progressive loss of sensation affects the areas that would touch a saddle — the inner thighs, back of the legs and the area around the rectum.”

How is a herniated disk diagnosed?

Your physician will conduct an oral history exam and a physical examination. The neurological part of the exam will include checking your reflexes, ability to walk, muscle strength, and sensation to various stimuli such as vibration.

Possible imaging tests include X-rays used to rule out other causes of back pain (such as infections, broken bones, spinal alignment problems, or tumors), CT scans to create cross-sectional images of the spinal column and surrounding anatomy, and MRIs to confirm the location of the herniated disk and the affected nerves. A myelogram may be used to show if there is pressure on the spinal cord or nerves due to multiple herniated disks or other problems. Per the Mayo Clinic, “A dye is injected into the spinal fluid before a CT scan is taken.”

Possible nerve tests examine how well your electrical nerve impulses are moving along the nerve tissue. A nerve conduction study examines how well your nerves are functioning by passing a small current through the nerve. An electromyography (EMG) evaluates the electrical activity of muscles when contracted and when at rest.”

What are the treatments for a herniated disk caused by a car accident?

Your doctor may recommend conservative treatment at first, involving pain medications and reducing your movements. Medications include nonprescription pain medications, neuropathic drugs, and muscle relaxers. Most doctors hesitate to prescribe opioids for numerous reasons. Cortisone injections may help, where a corticosteroid is injected into the area around the spinal nerves.

Many car accident victims with a herniated disk benefit from physical therapy; exercises to help minimize their pain. Some Phoenix patients require surgery if the pain cannot be controlled, if they have problems walking or standing, loss of bowel or bladder control, or numbness or weakness.

It’s rare that the entire disk is removed. The Mayo Clinic notes that surgeons can remove just the “protruding portion of the disk.” If the whole disk is removed, “the vertebrae might need to be fused with a bone graft.”

Some patients benefit from alternative therapies such as chiropractic care, acupuncture, and massage.

At Plattner Verderame, P.C., our car accident lawyers represent personal injury clients on a contingency fee basis. This means that you don’t owe us anything unless we obtain a verdict in your favor or a settlement with your consent. We’re dedicated to holding negligent drivers and other responsible parties accountable for all your injuries and damages. To discuss your claim, call our offices in Phoenix or Tempe or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment with a skilled Phoenix personal injury attorney.