Spinal cord injuries and back injuries are two separate types of injuries. Your spinal cord is a major bundle of nerves, about 18 inches long, extending from the base of the brain down the middle of the back, which sends nerve impulses between the brain and the body controlling your ability to move. The bundle of nerves is encased in bony vertebrae, which provide some protection. Broadly speaking, spinal cord injuries are injuries to the bundle of nerves, whereas back injuries are injuries to vertebrae and muscles in the back.
Your brain and spinal cord together compose your central nervous system. A common spinal cord injury is paralysis. Spinal nerves branch from the cord to other parts of the body and carry messages to initiate actions and send sensations, such as pain and temperature, from your skin and other organs to the brain. The spinal cord runs through the back, surrounded by rings of bone called vertebrae, which are named according to their locations along the back.
Back injuries generally refer to musculoskeletal and peripheral nerve injuries. The top vertebra bone is C-1, the next is C-2, and so on down the body. There are 12 vertebrae in the chest area, starting with T-1 at the top rib. There are five back or lumbar vertebrae and five tail or sacral vertebrae. Between the vertebrae are spinal discs, which are rubbery pads with an elastic core and a tough outer membrane. The discs serve as shock absorbers, but as a person ages, they get harder and less elastic. The changes that aging brings can make the discs more prone to injury.
Car Accidents and Disc Herniation
If an injury occurs to the spinal column, including the discs, a person may suffer substantial pain and immobility when he or she tries to move. The pain acts as a warning signal that the person should stop moving. When a person is in a rear-end car accident for example, the resulting injury to the back may involve disc herniation. This means that the soft jelly-like material inside the disc has pushed through a crack in the rougher outer membrane. Disc herniation is also known as a slipped or ruptured disc.
A disc herniation can range from mild to very severe. The herniation may irritate nerves, resulting in pain, numbness, or weakness, or it may not affect a person at all. Like broken bones, disc herniation can be observed on a scan. For some accident victims, a herniated disc can be treated with over-the-counter pain relief and some physical therapy. For other accident victims, however, a herniated disc may require back surgeries and require the victim to stay home from work. The dollar value of a disc herniation or other back injury cases depends partly on the state in which you live, medical records, and testimony from your health care providers.
Spinal Cord Injuries and Paralysis
Spinal cord injuries involve trauma or other damage to the spinal cord, resulting in impaired function or sensation. The spine does not need to be severed for damage to be permanent and fully disabling. Any injury to the spinal cord that is within the C1-C7 region can result in paraplegia. Injuries to the lumbar or sacral vertebrae that affect the spinal cord can result in a loss of functioning in the hips, legs, bowels, and genitals. Spinal injuries can be complete or incomplete. The latter means there is some functioning.
It is possible for somebody to sustain a broken back without suffering a spinal cord injury. This happens when only the bones around the cord are damaged, while the cord remains intact. In many cases, surgical management can stabilize broken vertebrae so that the accident victim avoids paralysis.
Accident victims who experience trauma to the head, neck, or back should get an immediate medical evaluation. The time it takes to get treatment for a spinal injury can make a big difference as to whether there are complications. Additionally, it is important to gather medical evidence in case you need to bring a personal injury lawsuit. Serious spinal injuries are not always immediately obvious, and if they are not treated, the injury can become more severe. For example, if swelling occurs around the spinal cord, paralysis can appear gradually.
The damages associated with spinal cord and back injuries can be substantial. Although they are different, both may require medical treatment as well as future medical care and require you to miss work and lose income, change careers, or hire household help. Both also may cause pain and suffering and other intangible damages.