The human spine is made up of individual bones called vertebrae separated by discs of cartilage that act as cushions. Car accidents create severe impact that can cause the outer covering of these discs to become damaged, allowing the soft inner material to squeeze or bulge outward. Called a herniated, slipped or ruptured disc, this condition may result in pain as the spinal nerves are put under pressure. Some people experience numbness or tingling in the affected nerves. Pain in the arms or legs and muscle weakness may be present as well. A blow to the back or the neck such as that which occurs during the impact from a car accident is a common cause of herniated discs.
However, being jarred or shaken during a car accident causes trauma that may or may not result in immediate pain from a herniated disc. In addition, soft tissue injuries generally do not show up on X-rays, meaning that this type of injury can be missed when a doctor performs an exam after a crash. Pain can take time to manifest and can present in areas of the body seemingly unrelated to spinal injuries. Other pains may radiate through the patient when certain movements are performed.
Pain, weakness, tingling or numbness that persists should be checked by a doctor using a CT scan or an MRI to determine if a disc has been damaged or slipped out of place. The disc should heal on its own, but physical therapy can be helpful in reducing the pain and discomfort. Home treatment is similar to other injuries and may include taking painkillers, icing the area and using a heating pad.
If left untreated, a herniated disc that does not heal can cause worsening symptoms over time. These may include problems such as pain or numbness that interferes with the ability to perform daily tasks, nerve compression leading to bladder or bowel dysfunction and loss of sensation in the pelvic area. Severe cases that damage nerves and cause debilitating symptoms may require surgery.
Car accidents put strain on the body that can result in traumatic spinal injuries, including herniated discs. Individuals who are involved in these incidents should seek immediate medical attention to rule out potential problems and prevent future complications. In many cases, however, the cost of such care can be high. Those who suffer such injuries can talk to a lawyer about pursuing compensation for those expenses from the party who caused the accident.