Intervertebral discs, also called spinal discs or simply discs, sit between the vertebrae. They provide cushioning and support. They also help your vertebrae move smoothly instead of grinding against each other when you twist, bend, or jump.
Although the collagen that makes up the discs is durable, it does not always last forever. Trauma can cause the discs to deform, leading to back pain and instability. Worse yet, the deformed disc may pinch nearby nerve roots, producing symptoms that radiate into your limbs.
What Is the Structure of Your Spine?
Your spine supports your body and protects your spinal cord. But it also flexes, giving your body a wide range of movement.
The spine accomplishes this with a modular structure.
Rather than consisting of a single bone, your spine includes the following 24 vertebrae:
- 7 vertebrae in the neck that form the cervical spine
- 12 vertebrae behind your chest that form the thoracic spine
- 5 vertebrae in the lower back that form the lumbar spine
Each vertebra includes a weight-bearing cylindrical body. Discs sit between the bodies of adjacent vertebrae so they do not bear on each other. The outer surface of the disc, called the annulus fibrosus, consists of fibrous collagen. The inner core of the disc, called the nucleus pulposus, contains springy, gel-like collagen.
Ligaments hold the discs in place. Specifically, ligaments connect the vertebrae above and below the disc, providing tension to hold it securely.
What Types of Disc Deformation Can Occur?
Discs can suffer damage despite their durability. The risk of disc injury increases as you age because the collagen material dehydrates and weakens with use. In many situations, a combination of disc degeneration and trauma can deform the discs. But even young people with healthy discs can suffer disc injuries when they experience severe physical stress.
A common cause of disc injuries comes from compressive forces. Disc compression can cause your discs to deform or even rupture. Compression forces happen in a few ways. A fall in a home accident or workplace accident can compress the discs. Falling objects on a construction site can crush the discs.
Car accidents are a common cause of disc injuries. When your vehicle hits another vehicle or a fixed object, your body tries to keep moving in the same direction and at the same speed as before the collision. The spine hyperextends and compresses as your body whips around, resulting in stretched ligaments and compressed discs.
Discs can deform in a few ways, including the following:
A herniated disc happens when the fibers of the annulus fibrosus separate and form an opening. The nucleus pulposus pushes through the opening to form a protrusion on the side of the disc. Doctors sometimes refer to a herniated disc as a “ruptured disc” due to the opening in the annulus fibrosus.
Discs bulge when the annulus fibrosus weakens but remains intact. While the fibers do not separate, they lose their structural integrity. The disc bulges and sags like a flat tire.
What Are the Symptoms of Bulging and Herniated Discs?
Deformed discs produce symptoms in two primary ways. First, when the disc herniates or bulges, the spine shifts out of alignment. The spine pulls on the muscles, tendons, and ligaments, hyperextending them and causing back pain and swelling.
Second, the deformed discs can press on nerve roots. The spine surrounds and protects the spinal cord, a bundle of nerves that innervates the body below the neck. Except for your heart and lungs, every organ, muscle, and sensory nerve ending below your neck connects to the spinal cord.
A pair of nerve roots branches from the spinal cord at each vertebra. The pair includes one nerve root for each side of your body. This nerve root pair carries all the nerve signals to and from a body region. These nerve signals include control impulses that your brain sends to your body and sensory impulses that carry information from your body to your brain.
The nerve roots sit next to the spine. When the discs deform, they press on and rub against the nerve roots. The nerves become irritated and inflamed.
Nerve inflammation causes the nerves to misfire, producing symptoms such as:
- Pain that radiates from the spine into the arms or legs
- Muscle weakness
- Numbness or tingling sensations in your buttocks or limbs
The location of your symptoms will depend on which disc has deformed. Disc injuries in the cervical spine produce symptoms in your hands, arms, and shoulders. Injuries to the discs of the thoracic or lumbar spine tend to affect the buttocks, legs, and feet.
What Treatment Is Available For Deformed Discs?
Doctors do not have many effective options for treating disc injuries. Your body cannot heal a herniated or bulging disc, and medical techniques cannot currently repair them. Instead, doctors have two options for treating your symptoms.
First, doctors can inject anti-inflammatory drugs into your nerve roots to calm the inflammation and treat your symptoms. In other words, your deformed disc will still compress your nerve roots, but doctors hope to stop the misfiring by reducing inflammation.
Second, doctors can operate on your spine to remove a section or all of a deformed disc. If they only remove part of the disc, the remaining portion will support your spine. If they remove the entire disc, they fill the gap with a piece of bone or an artificial disc. They then fuse the vertebrae above and below the missing disc.
The downside to the surgery is that the fused vertebrae lack the flexibility of your natural spine. This lack of flexibility can put stress on the rest of your spine. You may experience back pain or even the breakdown of additional discs due to the increased stress.
How Can You Get Compensation For Bulging and Herniated Discs?
Your options for compensation will depend on how your injury happened. If your disc injury happened at work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Additionally, a work-related injury may support a third-party claim against anyone, aside from your employer, who contributed to the cause of your injury.
Thus, suppose that you fell at work when a ladder broke. Under the no-fault workers’ comp system, you can seek medical and disability benefits. You may also have a claim against the ladder’s manufacturer if it sold a defective product.
If you were not injured at work, you may have a claim for injuries resulting from someone else’s negligent or intentional actions. For example, you can pursue a claim against a negligent property owner if you injured a disc in a slip and fall accident.
Herniated discs can cause severe symptoms that produce pain and physical limitations that last the rest of your life. Contact our Baggett Law Personal Injury Lawyers for a free consultation to discuss your disc injuries and the compensation you may pursue for them under Florida law. Call us today at (904) 396-1100.