Spine injuries can result in protruding or herniated discs that push against the spinal cord causing radiating pain in the limbs. Sciatica is pain along the sciatic nerve running down the legs. Herniated discs will never heal and often require expensive surgeries such as disc fusions (the fusing of two or more vertebrae) or discectomies (the removal of the disc between the vertebrae).
Spinal injuries can be in the cervical spine (the neck), the thoracic spine (the mid back), or the lumbar spine (low back). Spinal injuries can cause lifelong pain. If you've had a traumatic injury to your spine, be sure to speak to a skilled attorney who can protect your rights.
Your body is comprised of hard tissue (bone) and soft tissue (everything else). In automobile accidents, the soft tissue that gets injured are usually: muscles (strains or sprains that usually go away after a month or so), tendons, and the areas between your vertebrae called "discs."
The discs in your spine, sometimes called intervertebral discs, are the cushions that keep your vertebrae from rubbing against each other when they rotate. They are gel like sacs that can be easily ruptured and do not heal. Once you have ruptured a disc, it will not go back to it's non-ruptured state. Discs are also prone to drying out and flattening, a process called dessication.
When discs rupture, they can protrude and put pressure on the nearby spinal cord. If the disc in injured enough, it becomes herniated. The center of the disc has a nucleus, like the yolk of an egg. When a disc is herniated, that nucleus ruptures , just like a broken yolk.
It will continue to put pressure on the spinal cord, which might cause radiating pain in the arms, hands, or legs.
The pain might subside for a week, a month, or even several years, but the slightest injury to that area can cause the pain to worsen.
Herniated and protruding discs are typically treated with steroid injections, costing as much as over a thousand dollars per injection, or surgery. The surgeon can remove the disc and take bone shavings from another location on your body and fuse the vertebrae together. This surgery is called a fusion. If you have it on your mid back, it is a thoracic fusion. If it is on your lower back, it is called a lumbar fusion.
The top of your spinal column, has seven bones that comprise your neck and support your head. These bones twist and bend more that then other parts of your spine. They also are prone to more injury in an accident. Just like a whip can crack with the flip of a wrist with such force that it creates a loud noise, the cervical vertebrae, with the weight of the head on one end can put significant pressure on the discs in sudden, jerking stop and go motions. This is where the term whiplash comes from.
Just as in a mid-back (thoracic) or lower-back (lumbar) injury, the cervical vertebrae can be fused together. However, this is done by making an incision in the front of the throat and coming in from the other side. The surgeon uses special tools to push and keep your esophagus and all of the tissue off to the side, and removes the problematic disc. The two surrounding vertebrae are often held together with a metal plate screwed into the surrounding bones. This is called a cervical fusion.
The pain from a herniated or protruding disc is not always felt right away and the insurance companies know this. A quick settlement and release can put a car accident victim in a situation where he settled for quick money that might have seemed like a fair sum at the time, but now, he or she needs to see an orthopedic surgeon and possibly have a surgery and follow up treatment that could cost over a hundred thousand dollars.