The spine is composed of 26 vertebrae separated and cushioned by soft disks. A herniated disc (also known as a slipped disk) is where a disk slips out of place or ruptures, which can put pressure on a nerve causing pain, numbness, or weakness. The lower back is the most common location for a herniated disk (second most common are the neck/cervical disks, and thoracic disks are rarely involved).
Causes of herniated discs in personal injury cases
Common causes of herniated discs include repetitive strenuous activity causing degeneration, lifting heavy objects, and traumatic events (falls, accidents, blows to the back). Risk factors for slipped discs include being male, being middle-aged or older, and having congenital conditions affecting the lumbar spinal canal.
Symptoms usually occur on one side of the body and include: tingling/burning/radiculopahy/aching pain; numbness; sharp pain in leg, hip, calf, sole of foot (indicates of slipped disk in lower back); and pain moving neck, pain in shoulder, arm, fingers (indicates slipped disc in neck).
Pain usually builds gradually and can get worse after sitting, at night, when sneezing or coughing, or when bending or walking.
Medical treatment for patients with herniated discs
In order to diagnose a herniated disc, you doctor will perform a physical exam to check for numbness, reflexes, and strength. They might also have you walk and bend certain limbs to determine which movements cause increased pain or numbness. Tests such as EMG, MRI, CT, x-ray, and nerve conduction can be used to determine the location of the problem and rule out other causes. Treatment is similar to that for back pain and injury – a few days of rest, medication for pain, and physical therapy. Most cases do not require surgery.
Surgical options to treat back and neck herniations
However, if the disc pain is not relieved with conservative treatments, the patient may be referred to a neurosurgeon or orthopedist for surgery. Most herniated discs are treated with one of the following procedures dependent upon the extent and location of the injury.
- Discectomy: A Discetomy involves the removal of the material from the herniated disc that is pressing upon the spinal cord or nerve. While the surgery is usually used to treat people with herniated discs, the procedure can be effective in reducing pain in patients with a ruptured disc as well.
- Spinal fusion: During a spinal fusion the vertebrae surrounding the painful disc are fused together with surgical hardware. The procedure was originally developed for people with spine deformities, but is now widely used to treat other disc problems such as fractures and disc herniations. Because a fusion is invasive surgery, patients will stay in the hospital for a few days for observation and will undergo rehab exercises to restore full back function. In the case of a person with a physical job, they may need a vocational counselor to help in finding a job that is better suited to their physical capacity following surgery.
- Laminectomy: A laminectomy is surgery performed to relieve pressure on the spinal cord related to trauma or the inherent aging process. During a laminotomy procedure, a surgeon removes a portion of the vertebrae that forms a protective arch over the spinal cord (lamina). Laminectomy removes all of the lamina on selected vertebrae and also may remove thickened tissue that is narrowing the spinal canal camera, the opening in the vertebrae through which the spinal cord runs. Either procedure may be done at the same time as a discectomy, or separately.
Prognosis for patients with a lumber or cervical herniation
Most people with a herniated disc heal on their own over a relatively short time, from several weeks to several months. However, sometimes symptoms can return, so physical therapy can be used to help build and maintain core strength to help protect from re-injury.Contact an Illinois personal injury law firm with experience representing people with cervical and lumbar injuries sustained in accidents
Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers regularly represents people who have injured their back in car accidents or at work. Our attorneys understand the anatomy and surgical procedures related to herniations and other type of disc injuries. Our commitment to representing clients with serious cervical and lumbar injuries has resulted in our office achieving record settlements for them. If you suffered a back or neck injury due to the negligence of another party, contact our Chicago injury attorneys for a free case evaluation.