Back, Neck and Spine Injuries
Some of the most common injuries in a truck accident involve the back, neck and spine. The position of the human body when seated in an automobile, and the usual vectors of the tremendous forces at work in a typical auto-truck accident, are perfectly aligned to inflict damage to the human spine and its component parts including the neck, which is actually an extension of the spine.
A disc in a human spine contains a soft, jelly-like substance called nucleus pulposus. The nucleus pulposus is surrounded by a fibrous outer ring called the annulus fibrosus, which, when torn in an accident, allows the nucleus pulposus to bulge out. This bulge is known as a herniation and may cause extreme pain with or without concurrent nerve root compression or damage typical in a back injury.
A herniated disc is sometimes called a slipped disc, but this term is inaccurate. Intravertabral discs are sandwiched between and attached to two vertebrae and therefore cannot slip. A disc may be squeezed, stretched or twisted to some degree, but it cannot move out of place or “slip.” A herniated disc can accurately be called a prolapsed disc or a ruptured disc.
Symptoms of a herniated disc vary depending on location and type of soft tissue involved. When the disc itself is the only tissue damaged, a herniated disc may not exhibit pain. More common, however, are those that produce excruciating and unrelenting pain in the neck or lower back that often radiates outward to affect areas served by the underlying nerve roots, which are often pinched or irritated by the herniation. A situation in which one or more nerves are affected is described as radiculopathy.
Radiculopathy can result in symptoms manifesting as pains in the feet, knees, or thighs, or combinations of tingling and numbness. Some patients suffering from radiculopathy experience symptoms such as muscular weakness or paralysis. Symptoms are typically experienced only on one side of the body, though a large prolapse or herniation may press on the spinal cord and affect both sides of the body, a situation that often has serious consequences.
Because of the widely varying presentation of symptoms, diagnosing spinal injuries can be challenging. Patient description and examination can help. Pain radiating out through an arm, the back or legs can help determine the location of the injury as can tests of nerve and muscle electricity known as nerve conduction studies and electromyography. Tools such as x-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, and myelograms (an x-ray of the spinal canal following injection of a contrast material into the surrounding tissue) can all be employed to pinpoint the damaged area.
Most herniated discs will heal themselves in about six weeks and do not require surgery. Anti-inflammatory medications can be of help in treating these herniations as can bed rest, chiropractic manipulations, physical therapy, yoga, acupressure, acupuncture and massage. Many medical professionals emphasize the role of an exercise program in recovery for patients with back, neck or spinal injuries.
While the decision to have spinal surgery should only be made after a client has considered or tried all available non-surgical treatments, we know that for some, surgery is the best option. In those cases, we recommend that a client work closely with their medical team to develop a course of treatment that promises the best possible outcome.
Spinal surgery ranges from the minimally invasive IDET, to disc fusion, to the fixation of rods along the spine for support, to artificial disc replacement, a form of surgery that is relatively new in the U.S., but which has been in use in Europe for decades.
One of our greatest strengths as a firm is our expertise in dealing with the many legal and medical ramifications of injuries sustained in trucking accidents. As you may know all too well, an accident with a big rig often involves serious injuries and even fatalities. We aren’t doctors, but we consult with the medical professionals who treat our clients. It is crucial that we thoroughly understand the diagnosis and prognosis of each injury, the optimal approach to treatment, and the extent of recovery that can be hoped for so that we can convey essential understanding of medical complexities to jurors who need it in order to render a fair verdict.