A herniated disc, also called a slipped or ruptured disc, is among the most common types of back injuries resulting from auto accidents.
Difference Between The Vertebra And A Disc
The human spine is made of 33 vertebrae (bones) stacked on top of the other with a disc in between each pair. Discs are comprised of cartilage and act as a shock absorber between the vertebrae. The outside of a disc is merely a ring of fibrocartilage that contains jelly-like material inside. When the inside of a disc is under pressure, the material inside the disc can rupture (herniate) at the weakest point in the outer fibrous ring.
As we get older, the semi-gelatinous material in the center of the disc decreases, resulting in the disc “drying out,” which reduces the overall height of the disc space. As the disc loses material, the size of the disc decreases, causing the disc space to narrow. The function of the disc is to act as a shock absorber. Loss of material decreases the ability to continue performing the shock absorbing function.
A disc is herniated if the jelly-like material breaks through the fibrocartilage on the outside of the disc. This is similar to the jelly inside a doughnut rupturing through the outside of the donut. A herniated discs may also be called an extruded disc, a prolapsed disc, or even a slipped disc. A bulging disc and protruded disc differ from a herniated disc in that the former have not ruptured through the outer annular ring. Rather, the inner jelly material is still contained even though it bulges out.
Most Frequent Disc Herniations
Discs are numbered two ways: (1) to correspond to the top vertebrae and (2) to designate the vertebrae. For example, the disc between the fifth and sixth vertebral body is called the C5 disc (corresponding to the top vertebrae) and also the C5-C6 disc to designate the top and bottom discs. There is no disc between the first and second cervical vertebrae. The most frequent level for a disc herniation is in a person’s neck (cervical) is at C5-C6 and C6-C7 because these levels have the greatest load exerted upon them and exert the greatest motion. Accordingly, there is a greater potential for herniation at these levels. Sometimes, a person sustains an injury to the outer ring of the disc without experiencing an immediate disc herniation. Over time, however, the structure may deteriorate and lose its capacity to hold the jelly-like material inside the disc, thus resulting in disc rupture (herniation) at a later date.
Common Symptoms of Disc Herniations
The symptoms of disc herniation vary depending upon the location and size of the disc herniation. Radicular (radiating pain) develops mainly when the nerve root is compressed by the herniated disc. Nerve roots grow out of the spinal cord and extend laterally to the right and left in the spinal canal before exiting on each side, forming the right and left-sided spinal nerves, which innervate the right and left arms and legs.
Symptoms may also depend on the size of the person’s spinal canal. The diameter of the spinal canal (housing the spinal cord) varies from individual to individual. A person with a small spinal canal is more likely to develop symptoms from a small disc herniation than a person with a large spinal canal since they have more room in the canal for a space-occupying lesion such as a herniated disc. The spinal canal narrows with age, which is called spinal stenosis.
The nerve roots exit the spinal column at 45-degree angles and travel downward toward the extremities as the spinal nerves. A disc herniation will result in compression of the lower nerve root passing downward across the disc. For example, herniation of the disc between CS-C6 will result in compression of the C6 nerve root. Whenever a protruded or herniated disc compresses a nerve root, pain and paresthesia (abnormal sensations such as tingling or numbness) are felt by the person into the arm or leg along the course of the spinal nerve which is pinched. For example, a disc compressing the seventh cervical nerve root (C-7) will produce radiating pain along the course of the spinal nerve into the arm.
A disc herniation may not result in radicular symptoms unless the nerve root is compressed. In later years, a person with an asymptomatic disc herniation may develop radiating pain if the herniated disc material becomes larger, and/or the diameter of the spinal canal narrows with resulting nerve root compression. A traumatic event, such as a car wreck, may cause a completely asymptomatic disc herniation to become symptomatic.
Contact the Top Rated Colorado Personal Injury Law Firm
If you or a loved one has suffered a herniated disc as a result of a Colorado car accident, contact our attorneys today at 720.863.6904 or email us for your free consultation. Our lawyers handle a wide range of personal injury cases, including Motor Vehicle Accidents, Bicycle Accidents, Pedestrian Accidents, Slip & Fall Accidents, and Dog Bites & Attacks. We service Arvada, Aurora, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Commerce City, Lakewood, Littleton, Thornton, Westminster, Wheat Ridge, and other parts of metropolitan Denver, Colorado.
Owner and Managing Attorney
Jerry Bowman, J.D., M.A., Owner and managing attorney of Bowman Law LLC, takes his responsibility to the legal profession seriously and dedicates his time and effort to providing quality and competent legal representation to clients in Denver and throughout all of Colorado. He holds an MA in Political Science from Wayne State University and earned his law degree in two and a half years from Michigan State University College of Law.