The most common serious injury in a vehicle accident is a back or neck injury. With so many cars in Atlanta, Gwinnett County and the surrounding areas, I have seen my share of clients with major back and neck pain. Everyone understands that back injuries are serious. Tragically, the effects of a spinal cord injury are immediate obvious. Spinal cord injuries that result in paralysis are catastrophic and devastating. But, what about serious back injuries that are not obvious at the time of an auto accident, truck wreck or motorcycle crash? Herniated discs, slipped discs, ruptured discs and bulging disks are just those types of injuries. These may not be catastrophic injuries, but they are often permanent injuries affecting the victim for the rest of his or her life.
Disc injuries are almost never diagnosed on a trip to an emergency room. In fact they cannot be detected with an X-ray, CT scan or the other types of diagnostic equipment typically at a hospital ER. Instead, if an accident victim complains about a back or neck injury, and there is no bone fracture, the ER doctor will typically advise a patient to follow up with an orthopedic doctor if the pain persists. If the patient does so, the orthopedic doctor will typically advise the patient to seek physical therapy or massage therapy. Only after all conservative measures are exhausted, will a doctor order a magnetic resonance image (MRI) of the affected area. Sometimes, he will only do so at the insistence of the patient. MRIs can be expensive, and insurance companies do not want to pay for them.
The MRI will show the orthopedist the state of the cartilaginous discs in between the spinal vertebrae. These discs are filled with fluid and allow the spine to bend and twist, allowing normal torso movement. When a bulging disc is suffered, the disc has swelled or is otherwise “bulging” in one area relative to the rest of the disc. More seriously, a disc can become herniated or ruptured, and all that spinal fluid that keeps the disc hydrated can leak out. The disc can then become brittle and lose its elasticity. Unfortunately, this fluid cannot be put back in, and the disc cannot heal or become whole again.
Herniated discs are very serious injuries, and anyone who has suffered a herniated disc in an accident that was caused by someone else should seek the services of an excellent back and spine injury attorney. Surgical options are typically limited and imperfect for disc injuries. The doctor could perform a discectomy, where he or she removes the shredded disc. Alternatively, the doctor may “fuse” several vertebrae together. Obviously, fusing vertebrae together does not result in the type of mobility one enjoyed before this procedure. There is simply not a lot that can be done to make the patient the way they were before. After surgery, a victim of a herniated or ruptured disc may still suffer debilitating pain. This is one reason people get addicted to pain medications.
Perhaps medical science will advance to the point that herniated or ruptured discs can be made perfect by surgical procedure. Until that day comes, one needs to make sure that they are fully compensated for their future medical costs, pain and suffering.