In the first article of this two-part series, I discussed the anatomy of the spine. In this part part, I will discuss common spinal cord injuries.
There are several types of spinal injuries that can occur because of an accident, age, overuse, or other reasons. Some are very serious and may require surgery, and some are less so, perhaps requiring a few weeks of physical therapy.
The types of spinal injuries I have witnessed in my personal injury practice as a result of motor vehicle collisions include the following.
As I wrote in my previous article, the outer part of a spinal disc is called the annulus fibrosus, composed of fibrous bands. These bands are attached to the vertebra above and below them. An annular tear is a split or crack that develops in this ring-shaped portion of a disc.
Although we may have an annular tear, it may be minor enough for us not to even notice. However, if it is severe enough, the tear can cause other problems to develop.
A tear can allow the escape of the core material of the disc, the nucleus pulposus, composed of a jelly-like material that fills up the space within the disc. This is called a “herniated disc”. The jelly-like material sometimes extrudes far enough out to make contact with a nearby nerve or the spinal cord. This in turn, can produce significant pain, nerve compression, tingling, numbness, weakness and chronic pain.
Types of annular tears
The Laser Spine Institute describes the categories of annular tears as follows.
- Radial tears — Typically, caused by the natural aging process, radial tears begin at the center of the disc and extend all the way through the outer layer of the annulus fibrosus. These tears can cause a disc to herniate, which occurs when the center nucleus of a disc extrudes through the tear to the outside of the disc.
- Peripheral tears — These tears occur in the outer fibers of the annulus fibrosus and are usually brought on by traumatic injury or contact with a bone spur. Peripheral tears can lead to the degeneration or breakdown of an intervertebral disc.
- Concentric tears — When a tear occurs between the layers of the annulus fibrosus circumferentially, it is called a concentric tear, which is usually caused by injury.
How to identify an annular tear
If you experience periodic or chronic pain in your neck, shoulder or any part of your back, with or without tingling or numbness to the extremities, you should contact your physician for a proper diagnosis. If he or she suspects an annular tear, he or she may order some diagnostic tests (CT or MRI) and refer you to a back specialist.
I recommend that my clients who have such symptoms seek help immediately, as the pain can worsen and the problems can become severe.
Although most annular tears heal on their own, your doctor may be able to help you deal with the symptoms conservatively. However, some conditions may require surgery, which is often the case after a car crash. A spinal injury can occur even in a minor collision because the effect of the back and forth motion of the vehicle can cause significant strain and pressure to the spinal vertebrae and its discs.
If you are experiencing neck or back pain as a result of a motor vehicle accident that was caused by someone’s negligence or carelessness, after you have seen a doctor, give me a call and we can discuss the merits of your case.
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Little Rock, AR 72206
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