Herniated discs are one of the most common injuries from an accident or car wreck. They can cause significant pain and suffering and treating them can require months of physical therapy, epidural steroid injections and even surgery.  Our Atlanta, Georgia personal injury lawyers represent people who have suffered herniated disc injuries and help them obtain compensation for their injuries.

What is a herniated disc?

Discs are cushions between the vertebrae in your back.  They serve as shock absorbers for the vertebrae, absorbing the wear and tear of everyday life.  The discs in the neck are called the cervical spine, the discs in the middle back are called the thoracic spine and the discs in the lower back are called the lumbar spine.

The outer layer of a disc is a tough layer called the “annulus fibrosus” and the inner layer is a water-filled layer called the “nucleus pulposus.”  A disc herniates when the outer layer tears or breaks, allowing the inner layer to protrude out.  This may also be called a slipped or ruptured disc.

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What are the symptoms of a herniated disc?

If a herniated disc touches or squeezes the nerves in the spinal cord or the spinal cord itself, it can cause pain, numbness and weakness in your arms and legs.  The medical term for pain that travels from your neck or back into your arms or legs is called “radiating pain.”  If you have pain that radiates into your shoulders, arms and hands, you may have a herniated disc in your cervical spine, meaning your neck.  If you have pain that radiates into your legs, you may have a herniated disc in your lumbar spine, meaning your lower back.

How is a herniated disc diagnosed?

Herniated discs cannot be diagnosed through x-rays.  If you have pain that radiates into your arms or legs or numbness and muscle weakness, your doctor will likely order an MRI of your neck or back.  An MRI is the “gold standard” of diagnostic tests to determine whether you have a herniated disc. An MRI allows your doctor to determine exactly which disc is herniated and whether it is compressing your spinal cord or any of the nerves in your spinal cord.

How Is A Herniated Disc Treated?

Herniated discs are first treated with physical therapy and prescription medication.  If that doesn’t help, the doctor may order epidural steroid injections, where medication is injected into the nerves that are causing pain to numb and calm them down.

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If epidurals are not successful in treating the pain, the next step is surgery.  The doctor may perform a discectomy, where the part of the disc that is herniated is cut out and removed, or a fusion surgery, where the disc is removed and replaced with metal screws and rods that are secured to the surrounding vertebrae.

Herniated Discs from Accidents

Personal injury cases with herniated discs usually involve two scenarios.  First, the accident caused a herniated disc in a person’s neck or back.  Second, the accident aggravates or exacerbates a herniated disc the person already had and cause them to begin experiencing symptoms when they had none before the accident.  In either situation, personal injury law allows you to recover for the medical treatment and bills required to treat the herniated disc as well as the pain and suffering it causes.

It can often be hard to tell whether an accident caused a person to have a herniated disc. Herniated discs are part of the aging process and it is fairly common for people to have a herniated disc but not to experience any problems from it.  Lawyers in personal injury cases spend lots of time arguing with defense lawyers and insurance companies about whether an accident caused a person to suffer a herniated disc or whether it was there before the accident.  This is beside the point.  Whether the accident caused the herniated disc or not, if the accident caused the person to suffer pain and require medical treatment, personal injury law allows them to recover even if they had the herniated disc before the accident.