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What to Know About Herniated Discs From Car Accidents

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Posted on March 29, 2024

Over five million car accidents occur annually in the United States resulting in an average of two million injuries and around 30,000 deaths. Back and neck injuries are the most commonly experienced car accident injuries. Trauma to this area occurs from sheer crash force in a car accident which exerts tremendous pressure on the spinal column in a seatbelted motorist. A herniated disc can occur anywhere along the spinal column from the cervical spine in the neck, to the lower lumbar spine, but they are most common in the lower portion of the back. So, what is a herniated disc, how do they occur, and are they treatable? What’s more, is an at-fault party in a car accident liable for paying compensation for medical costs after a herniated disc from a car crash?

The Deadly Equation

Understanding Crash Force in a Car Accident

Seatbelts save lives by preventing motorists from becoming projectiles inside the car during an accident or from suffering ejection from the vehicle through a window. However, even when belted properly, the crash force of an accident causes rapid acceleration and deceleration of the body. In what’s sometimes called “The Deadly Equation” it’s possible to calculate the crash force of a human body in an accident. For example, for an average 125-pound adult traveling at 55 miles per hour, their body becomes a 6,875-pound force propelled against the seat belt and then snapped back against the seat. A herniated disc is a very common result, even when the accident occurs at lower speeds.

What Is a Herniated Disc?

The spinal cord is protected by an encircling column of round vertebrae that supports the body to keep an individual upright. Between each vertebra are round, cushioning discs that allow fluid movement by preventing bones from rubbing against each other, essentially functioning as shock absorbers. Each disc resembles a round pillow with a soft, gel-like center—the nucleus—surrounded by a tough outer layer called an annulus. When a powerful force like that in a car crash causes a rupture in the outer layer of the disc, part of the nucleus is forced through the break and bulges into the spinal column. This is a herniated disc.

Because the spinal column is narrow, the intrusion of the bulging nucleus into the limited space puts pressure on the nerves, causing pain. Because the disc is missing part of its cushion, the bones may rub together during movement, causing further pain.

A herniated disc—also called a ruptured disc—can occur at any age, but the risk increases with age as the disc’s outer layer degenerates over time and ruptures more easily.

herniated disc

Treating a Herniated Disc After a Car Accident

An MRI is often used to diagnose a herniated disc after a car accident. Treatment is generally separated into two options, either surgical or non-surgical.

Nonsurgical treatment could include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Pain management
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Gentle massage
  • Ice and heat therapy
  • Stretching
  • Pelvic traction
  • Electromagnetic stimulation

Doctors consider surgery if the above non-surgical treatments do not improve the condition. Surgery is an option for those with severe pain, limited mobility, or who experience loss of bowel and bladder function from the condition.

Who is Responsible for your medical expenses

Who Is Responsible for Covering the Medical Expenses of Accident-Related Herniated Discs?

Sometimes insurance companies dispute claims for accident-caused herniated discs if the individual is a senior citizen, especially if they’ve experienced previous injury or have a history of degenerative discs. However, our St. Louis spinal cord injury attorneys argue that the force of the accident greatly exacerbates an existing condition or causes a herniation that otherwise would not have occurred. The at-fault driver in an accident is responsible for compensating the back injury victim through their auto insurance policy.

For more information on recovering compensation for your injury, contact The Floyd Law Firm, P.C. today.