The spinal cord is a delicate piece of work. Rooted at the brain, the spine runs down the back and its ingenious design allows you to twist and bend and do back flips and, if you’re lucky, touch your toes. Throughout the bone and discs and fluid run a network of nerves and nerve endings that shuttle signals from every end of your body to your brain and back, letting you feel and manipulate your environment. It’s a miracle of nature.
When things go wrong, however, the miracle can become a nightmare. Quick changes that your spine can’t compensate for can result in herniated or compressed discs, sciatica, back pain, numbness, tingling, even weakness. This trauma is often the result of collisions; even minor impact wrecks can have devastating effects on your spinal discs.
What is a herniated disc?
According to the Mayo Clinic, a herniated disc “refers to a problem with one of the rubbery cushions (discs) between the individual bones (vertebrae) that stack up to make your spine. A spinal disc is a little like a jelly donut, with a softer center encased within a tougher exterior. Sometimes called a slipped disc or a ruptured disc, a herniated disc occurs when some of the softer ‘jelly’ pushes out through a crack in the tougher exterior.”
Car crashes and spinal damage
Our two main focuses for this article are cervical herniated discs (in this instance, cervical refers to the neck) and herniated discs in the lower back. Both are commonly the result of low-speed collisions, and both can have far-reaching impacts.
Cervical herniated discs are the result of over-compression of the neck. This trauma is often the result of a car wreck involving a sudden deceleration. Cervical herniated discs are often treated with a procedure called Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion, or ACDF. During the procedure, surgery is done from the front of the neck to provide better access to the spine. The disc is removed surgically and the spine segment is fused together to allow nerves to move freely through the previously compressed vertebrae.
Herniated discs in the lower back present a different problem. Herniating a disc in the lower back can result in low back pain. However, the nerves that run through the spine in the lower back are some of the longest in the body; they travel all the way from your brain to the soles of your feet. As a result, herniated discs in the lower back can result in radiating pain elsewhere in your body. Discectomies can also be performed on the lower back in much the same way they are done during an ACDF.
If you or someone you know has been involved in a collision resulting in significant neck or back pain, please contact us for a free consultation.