Herniated Discs

As discussed in my previous post regarding neck and back injuries, auto collisions can cause painful spinal injuries.  Less common than sprains or strains is the herniated disc.

There are 33 vertebrae in the human spine.  These are divided into four sections: cervical  (neck), thoracic  (mid-back between the rib cage), lumbar  (the lower back), and the sacral vertebrae (in the hip structure, including the tail bone).   There is a cushion between each vertebra that acts as a “shock absorber” if you will.  This disc has a flexible, solid outer shell with a gelatinous fluid within.

The outer shell of these discs can rupture, bulge, or herniate (a balloon-like bulge).  When this happens, the disc can press on the spinal cord or press on other nerves that exit the vertebrae into other parts of the body.  This can be very painful.  The bulging disc interrupts the normal function of the nerves.  Those suffering from herniated or bulging discs can experience electrical shock sensations in their arms or legs, numbness, muscle weakness, and sometimes even problems with bowel or urinary function. Herniated discs are usually diagnosed using an MRI.

Auto collisions and other spinal trauma can cause herniated discs.  Disc injuries are most common at the C5-6 vertebrae in the neck and at L5-S1 in the low back.  Sometimes these injuries are so serious that they require surgery.

Insurance companies and their doctors and lawyers invariably argue that the disc herniation was not caused by the trauma.  They usually claim that the bulging or herniated disc existed before the trauma and was caused by aging alone.  Or, they will try to find some other trauma to blame.  Or, they will claim that the bulging is “minor” and not pressing on any nerves.

This is where lawyering makes a difference.  Your lawyer should investigate: (1) Have you ever suffered from similar symptoms in the past? (2) Are there gaps in treatment or reporting of symptoms?  (3) What do your doctors say?  (4) What does the MRI show?

When confronting the insurance companies and their doctors, your lawyer must make clear that: (1) your disc injuries arose because of the trauma you suffered in this incident; (2) these symptoms did not spontaneously arise;  (3) there is no other logical explanation for your disc injury symptoms; and (4) your herniated disc is indeed painful and debilitating. Your lawyer must provide clarity.


-Ethan Vessels

Neck and Back Injuries

Neck and Back Injuries

I represent dozens of clients relating to personal injuries, and I have settled hundreds. What is the most common injury? Neck and back injuries are the most common, by far.

Why? The spine bears the force of auto collisions. Thankfully, these days, most of us wear our seat belts. This is good for preventing all kinds of trauma that can occur in an auto collision. But, the spine still suffers. When a car is hit, the kinetic force travels into our bodies. This causes our neck and back to violently bend in ways that it does not want to go.

The most common injury is the “whiplash” injury. During a collision, the weight of our head causes our neck to whip forward and then back violently. The muscles and ligaments surrounding the cervical spine (the neck) are stretched and torn, causing a sprain or strain injury. Whiplash is painful. The neck can be sore for months. It is not the same as getting a “crook” in your neck from sitting under the air conditioner too long.

Worse yet, neck injuries will often irritate the occipital nerve at the base the skull. This causes painful headaches. I have had some clients who developed these headaches permanently.

Just as with the neck, the mid- and low back can suffer the same “sprain or strain” injuries, which can take months to heal.

Sometimes, the injuries are worse than “sprain or strain” injuries. The trauma of the collision can damage the gelatinous discs between the vertebrae. Trauma can cause discs to bulge or “herniate” (a balloon-type bulge). The discs can also tear, allowing the acidic contents to leak from the disc. Herniated discs can be very painful, particularly if the disc presses on the nerves that exit the spine. Many of my clients with bulging or herniated discs report permanent pain and discomfort, along with numbness or tingling feelings in their arms or legs.

Generally, the harder the collision, the more likely it is to suffer neck and back injuries. But not always, I have had several doctors tell me that they have seen paralysis cases arising from relatively slow collisions.

-Ethan Vessels