A disc herniation (or herniated disc) is a potentially painful injury in your spinal cord area. It can occur anywhere along your spine, but is normally seen in the lower back.
Your spine is a column made up of bones, called vertebrae. In between the vertebrae are discs that act like cushions, think of them as pillows between your vertebrae.
These discs have a tougher, fibrous surface. Inside the disc is a softer, more fluid material. A disc herniation occurs when there is a tear in the tougher, outer skin, and the softer material inside oozes out.
This injury occurs most often between the L4 and L5 vertebrae, because this area takes the most abuse in your day to day activities.
Most herniated discs are caused by age. Slow, aging related wear and tear called disc degeneration. Other times, it’s improper lifting technique (lifting with your back instead of legs) which causes it.
But often times, a traumatic car accident or slip/trip and fall can cause a disc herniation.
Herniated discs can be very painful, but there are people who never feel any symptoms after a disc herniation. Symptoms depend on individual tolerances, and the severity of the herniation.
If the herniation is large enough, the jelly-like material inside can ooze out far enough to compress the nerves that shoot out right there from the spine. You can feel shooting pains, electric shocks, numbness and tingling. If the herniation is even bigger, it can press on nerves on both sides of the bodies, making these symptoms even worse.
How is disc herniation diagnosed?
If these symptoms are present, your doctor may perform tests such as a neurological exams (basically reflex tests) to check for any abnormalities. They can also perform a “positive straight leg raising test” where they see if you are in pain, if your straight leg is raised.
If the doctor suspects a herniated disc, an MRI or CT Scan can be ordered to confirm it. An electromyogram (EMG) exam can be administered to check which nerves are being irritated or affected.
With minor herniations with little to no pain, often time and rest will allow the herniation to heal. Depending on severity of symptoms, personal injury victims will receive a progressive treatment schedule, starting with physical therapy, muscle relaxant medications, pain medications, anti-inflammation medications, and escalating to local injections of cortisone (epidural injections), and finally surgical operations.
How does a herniated disc affect your personal injury case?
An objectively documented disc herniation does increase the value of your case. There are many factors when trying to “guestimate” the value of your case. But if you did not have any symptoms prior to the accident, and post-accident there is significant pain, with MRI scans showing disc herniations, and EMG tests showing nerve issues, a disc herniation caused by someone else’s negligence can have significant case value.