Spinal Injuries

Spinal Injuries

Spinal injuries are common in many accidents, especially car, motorcycle, bicycle, pedestrian, and construction accidents. Spinal injuries include injuries to the spinal cord, discs, joints, and vertebrae. The spinal cord is a column of nerves that runs up and down within the vertebrae. The spinal discs and joints connect each of the vertebrae. Nerve roots branch out from the spinal cord and run through openings in the vertebrae. These openings are called foramina. Oftentimes, trauma to the spinal column will result in “foraminal narrowing,” which causes compression on the nerve roots. In more severe cases, narrowing can occur within the spinal column leading to spinal cord compression.

The spinal cord is divided into through sections, the neck (cervical), middle back (thoracic), and lower back (lumbar). When nerves in the neck are pinched, you can experience numbness, tingling, or pain in the neck, trapezoid, shoulders, arms, or hands. When nerves in the mid-back are pinched, you can experience these symptoms in the upper back, chest, or belly. When nerves in your lower back are pinched, you will experience these symptoms in your back, thighs, calves, and feet.

Injuries to intervertebral discs are one of the most common kinds of spinal injuries. The discs are cushions that sit between each vertebra. Inside the discs is a jelly-like substance. If the disc is torn during trauma, the cushion can tear and the jelly can leak. The leaking jelly can leak outside of the disc and irritate the nerve, or partially leak and harden within the disc. The hardened jelly can then push on the nerve roots, causing pain, numbness, tingling, and other nerve symptoms. Disc injuries are typically classified as herniations, protrusions, annular tears/fissures, and bulges.

Spinal injuries are diagnosed with imaging, including x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and sometimes arthroscopy and ultrasound. Injections are also a tool to diagnose parts of the spine that are generating pain and symptoms. If the injection relieves the symptoms, then the doctor has a good idea about where to focus his or her treatment. X-rays and CT scans are more useful to diagnose injuries to bones. MRIs, arthroscopy, and ultrasound are used to diagnose injuries to soft tissue, including muscle, ligaments, cartilage, fat, and vessels.

There is a wide spectrum of treatment to alleviate symptoms that come from spinal injury. More conservative treatment includes anti-inflammatory medication, chiropractic adjustments and manipulation, physical therapy, heating pads, trigger-point injections, nerve block injections, steroid injections, and rhizotomies (burning nerve roots using laser probes). Conservative treatment is always attempted before moving to surgery unless imaging reveals something very serious, such as a severely compressed spinal cord that may get severed in a traumatic event.

If the symptoms became severe and constant, surgical intervention may be necessary. The two most common types of spinal surgery are discectomies and fusions. In discectomy or micro discectomy surgery, a doctor removes part of the disc that is irritating the nerve root. Recovery is quick following this surgery. Most patients leave the hospital the same day of surgery. Older patients may need to spend 1-2 nights in the hospital to recover. Patients can resume their normal activities within just a few weeks.

Fusion surgery is where two vertebrae are fused together to form one large vertebra. The cushiony disc is essentially replaced with bone. This leads to stiffness in the spinal column and loss of motion within the fused area. Fusions can be within one level or multiple levels of the spinal cord. Fusions in the lower back and neck often lead to wear and tear of the disc above and below the fused levels and can lead to additional fusion surgery. This is referred to as adjacent segment disease. Adjacent segment disease is common in the lower back and neck but is less common in the mid-back or thoracic.

If you have suffered a spinal injury due to negligence, please contact our law firm to discuss compensation.

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