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After a car accident, the body’s natural stress response triggers the release of adrenaline; this hormone can temporarily mask pain and discomfort. As a result, individuals may not immediately feel the full extent of their injuries. Moreover, most people tend to focus on acute injuries, such as bruises, muscle aches, or fractures and do not consider spinal column injuries, such as a herniated disc. In most cases, symptoms of a herniated disc may not develop until days or weeks later following the initial trauma, and many people are unfamiliar with the signs, symptoms, and treatment of a herniated disc. 

What is a herniated or bulging disc?

A herniated disc, or a slipped or ruptured disc, occurs when the spinal disc’s inner core (nucleus pulposus) protrudes through the outer layer (annulus fibrosus) and presses on the spinal nerves or spinal cord. 

A bulging disc occurs when the outer layer (annulus fibrosus) is weakened, protrudes outward beyond its normal boundary, and presses on the spinal cord or nerve. The difference is whether the soft jelly-like material seeps out (herniated disc) or not (bulging disc). Both herniated and bulging discs can result in sharp pain, numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, and radiating pain down the arms or legs. However, it depends on the location and severity of the herniation. 

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How does a herniated or bulging disc occur? 

During a car accident, the individuals in the vehicle undergo rapid and forceful movements, subjecting their spine to significant strain. This sudden motion can result in neck or back injuries, and various factors influence the severity, including: 

  • The location of impact: Whether the collision occurred on the side, rear, or front end of the vehicle 
  • How the seat belt was positioned and secured 
  • Deployment of airbags 
  • Where the occupant was seated in the vehicle – Were they in the front or back seat, or were they the driver or a passenger 
  • Collision speed (low, moderate, or high speed) 
  • The extent of damage sustained to the vehicle, which can range from mild to severe 

Herniated discs frequently occur in the neck (cervical) or lower back (lumbar), resulting from excessive forward (hyperflexion) or backward (hyperextension) movements in the spine. Severe impacts can subject the spine to compression and shearing forces, leading to more pressure on the discs. Even if the initial impact doesn’t cause a herniated disc, secondary trauma like hitting the steering wheel or airbag can contribute to its development.  

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Signs and Symptoms: 

Herniated discs can cause a variety of signs and symptoms, depending on the location and severity of the herniation. If you’re experiencing neck, back, arm, shoulder, or leg pain, your healthcare provider may suspect a disc herniation injury. Diagnosis of a disc injury usually involves a physical examination and diagnostic imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans, or an MRI. 

Common symptoms include:

  • Pain: It may be localized to the area of the herniation or radiate to other parts of the body, such as the arms or legs
  • Numbness or tingling: The herniated disc can compress on the nerve and cause numbness in the arms, hands, or feet 
  • Changes in reflexes: Reflexes may be diminished or absent in the affected limb
  • Worsening pain with movement: Bending, lifting, twisting, or sitting may worsen or exaggerate the pain caused by a herniated or bulging disc 
  • Pain that improves with rest: Lying down or reclining may alleviate the pressure on the affected nerve and provide temporary relief 

The lifelong impact of a herniated or bulging disc includes chronic pain, reduced mobility, nerve damage, and significant lifestyle changes. 

What is the treatment for a herniated or bulging disc? 

The key to successfully managing a herniated or bulging disc is early diagnosis and treatment, which promotes long-term recovery and prevents complications. Treatment choice depends on the severity of symptoms, neurological deficits, and the individual’s overall health and goals. Common treatments include: 

Conservative care measuresRest, physical therapy, pain management, chiropractic care, or heat/cold therapy 
MedicationsAnalgesics such as Tylenol or opioids may alleviate the painAnti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen or Naproxen reduce inflammation 
Minimally invasive proceduresIf medications do not alleviate the pain, a provider may inject steroids directly into the affected area of the spine (epidural steroid injection)Laser therapy may also shrink or remove the herniated disc material and alleviate the pressure on the spinal nerves
Surgery Discectomy: Surgical removal of the herniated portion of the disc Laminectomy: Surgical removal of a portion of the spinal canal (lamina) Spinal fusion: Surgical procedure used to stabilize and fuse two or more vertebrae in the spine. The surgeon will remove the damaged disc and insert bone graft material into the space previously occupied by the disc 
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What should I do next? 

Navigating your recovery after a car accident can be challenging. Between understanding the complexity of insurance policies and legal proceedings while simultaneously focusing on medical treatment, the layers of difficulty involved with a personal injury claim can begin to add up. To further complicate matters, proving the extent of the injuries in an accident often requires comprehensive medical treatment, documentation, medical opinion, and legal strategy. Rest assured, with the proper legal guidance and medical care, you can better navigate your personal injury claim and get the settlement you deserve with guidance from the Ghuneim Law Firm. 

Ghuneim Law Firm’s legal representation extends to the residents in the Pasadena-Houston Metro area. Call us today at 281-487-8929.