Herniated Disk, Back, and Spine Injuries Explained

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A painful injury that’s less frequently discussed, but causes a great deal of pain for those affected (either due to accident, medical malpractice, or trauma), is what’s known as a herniated disk injury. Within this Shaked Law Resource article we’ll provide the information needed to fully understand the painful reality of herniated disks and several other back and spine injuries, as well as the lengths an accident victim may have to go to achieve pain relief. From prescription pain medication to undergoing surgical procedures to relieve symptoms, those who have suffered a back injury can attest to the fact it’s not only extremely painful but prevents them from living fully.

Why are herniated disk, back, and spine injuries so serious?

Within the scope of Personal Injury Law we see an endless list of injuries that affect our clients and have caused them irreparable harm, making many things in their daily lives impossible to manage. From trauma to medical malpractice to car and motorcycle accident injuries, there isn’t one specific injury that can be said to be anymore painful than the next. Due to the nature of Personal Injury Law, lawyers see clients at their worst, and a lot of the time the worst is unimaginable pain. Each injury our clients suffer whether through trauma, accident or medical malpractice is unique. Each injury causes painful symptoms, sometimes leaving clients bed or wheelchair bound for extended periods of time; in the worst cases, clients are permanently confined to a bed or their wheelchair due to injuries that required amputation, or caused paralysis.

This is why an injury that affects the back and spine, such as a herniated disk, should never just be considered “back pain”. This diminishes the extent of the injury and the pain and suffering the victim endures. In its most severe cases, herniated disks can be as painful as a Spinal Cord Injury (both injuries are known to cause nerve damage, resulting in loss of function 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.

What happens when an employee sustains an injury on the job?

In the case of employees who suffer a herniated disk injury while on the job due to unsafe work conditions or lack oversight, these workers may find themselves facing lost wages and being forced to survive on meager workman’s compensation benefits throughout an extended recovery, depending on the extent of the injury sustained. If the injury sustained resulted in damage to the nerves of the neck or spine, recovery can be prolonged indefinitely.

A herniated disk should never just be considered "back pain"; this diminishes the extent of the injury and the pain and suffering the victim endures.

A herniated disk should never just be considered “back pain”; this diminishes the extent of the injury and the pain and suffering the victim endures. ©BigStockPhoto

What are the symptoms of a herniated disk?

When doctors reference a patient having a “herniated disk”, 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 herniated disk 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.

Other symptoms of herniated disk can include but are not limited to:

  • Pain in the extremities: when a victim sustains a herniated a disk in the lower back (lumbar region) they typically feel intense, burning pain in the buttocks, calf, thigh, or all three. In extreme cases, the feet may become involved as well. However, if the herniated is located in the neck (cervical spine), it’s most likely the victim will suffer pain in the shoulders and arms. This pain can be described as “shooting” and 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, 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 disk 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 herniated disk injuries?

Mayo Clinic states that “disk herniation is most often the result of a gradual, aging-related wear and tear called disk 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.

 

Mayo Clinic states that "disk herniation is most often the result of a gradual, aging-related wear and tear called disk degeneration". ©BigStockPhoto

Mayo Clinic states that “disk herniation is most often the result of a gradual, aging-related wear and tear called disk degeneration”. ©BigStockPhoto

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

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 for sustaining this type of injury than others. While most people can’t remember exactly how they sustained their back injury, the risk factors that physicians often look at are:

  • Excess weight gain: being overweight (coupled with lack of exercise) can put extra stress on the disks of the lumbar region of the spine, causing a higher risk for herniation. Usually, this can be relieved with proper exercise or targeted physical therapy intended to relieve the pressure on the lower spine.
  • Occupational hazards: the percentage of the population with physically demanding jobs are at the highest risk for disk herniation. Jobs that require heavy lifting, pushing, pulling, and bending all come with the risk of a widespread array of spine-related injuries. Rarely, work related accidents that cause a direct hit to the spine can cause herniated disks and other severe spinal injuries.
  • Hereditary and genetic factors: heredity and genetics can also play a role in spinal injuries, leaving people more susceptible to herniated disks and other associated co-morbidities. While extremely rare, it’s worth noting that a form of auto-immune (inflammatory) arthritis called Ankylosing Spondylitis can cause degeneration and “bulging” disks in the spine (without any spine related injury in the patient’s medical history), leading to herniation if no intervention is sought. This rare genetic illness is caused by a blood marker known as “HLA-B27” and can be ruled out with an x-ray and a routine blood test if the physician feels the patient’s family history puts them at risk for it.

What happens when complications arise?

While your spinal cord doesn’t extend into the lumbar region, just below the waist is where the spinal cord tapers off into a group of nerve roots (known medically as “cauda equina”). If a disk herniation is severe enough, it may compress these nerve roots and emergency surgery may be required for decompression. If you experience worsening weakness or paralysis, contact your physician immediately or go straight to the emergency room.

Worsening symptoms that should not be ignored include but are not limited to the following, and require immediate medical attention from a licensed physician:

  • 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 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.

Disclaimer: Any symptoms those injured experienced should always be discussed with a licensed medical professional, and 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.

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