By far, the most common injuries suffered by our clients are back injuries. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) estimates that lower back pain affects as much as 70% of the population of the United States. That makes this a highly relevant topic. As personal injury attorneys, it is vitally important for us to recognize and fully understand the nature of various injuries, including, of course, those to the spine. Injuries to the spine, generally referred to as ‘back injuries,’ encompass an enormous variety of conditions and ailments, including neck, middle, and lower back injuries.
In a nutshell, the spine is divided into three parts.
1) ‘Cervical,’ commonly referred to as the neck;
2) ‘Thoracic,’ which refers to the middle of your spine; and
3) ‘Lumbar,’ which refers to the lower portion of your spine ending at your coccyx or tailbone.
Within these three areas of the spine, the areas are divided further and referred to by numbers associated with specific vertebra (Cervical C1, C2; Thoracic T1, T2; Lumbar L1, L2, etc.). Because the spine is required to move and bend in all directions constantly, it cannot be one immobile piece of bone. Instead, the spine is comprised of individual bones similar in size and general shape to a tiny can of cat food. Between these bones (vertebrae) are ‘discs,’ which I like to explain as similar to a small balloon partially filled with fluid and surrounded by nerves. Now that you have a general picture of how the spine is constructed, it is easier to explain common forms of injuries associated with it.
Common Back Injuries
What happens when the liquid-filled ‘balloon-like’ disc is punctured? The rupturing of a disc is called a ‘herniation.’ Herniated discs are a common form of injury and can lead to various immediate and future medical problems. Often, herniations are caused by a sudden trauma or rapidly applied specific pressure to the discs or the vertebra immediately above and below that specific disc. It is important to note that when a trauma to the spine occurs, the pain is not always immediately felt. It is well-documented that pain from herniated discs may not be felt for days, weeks, and even months after the initial trauma.
The Pain Comes on Gradually
Let’s say, for example, that you were involved in a motor vehicle accident or a fall on a construction site, and you herniated a lumbar disk. You pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and cannot believe your luck; you feel shaken but not too bad. In the weeks following your accident, you begin to feel progressively worsening pain in your lower back. You may even feel numbness or tingling in your leg or legs (often described as the sensation of your leg ‘falling asleep’). The mechanics behind your progressively worsening condition is that once your disc is ruptured, it takes time for the fluid to leak out of your disc. Because your disc acts as a cushion between two bones (your vertebra), coupled with the disc being surrounded by nerve endings, as the fluid is depleted from your disc, you will feel the bones rubbing or ‘impinging’ upon the nerves. This impingement of the nerves is what causes pain and often necessitates treatment.
An attorney with a strong grasp of the medical issues involved with a back injury is a key to success for our clients. We have obtained a 3.5 million dollar settlement for a construction worker who was injured and had a spinal cord stimulator implanted in his spine, 1.45 million dollars for a woman who slipped and fell and required a surgical procedure known as balloon kyphoplasty, 3.525 million dollars for a person who underwent a lumbar fusion, 3.475 million dollars for another client who had lumbar surgery, and a jury verdict of 2.1 million dollars for a person who aggravated a preexisting back injury as a result of an automobile accident.
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The importance of understanding the current effects of your injury and how that injury will affect you in the future is a point that cannot be stressed enough. If you are represented by an attorney who does not understand the medical aspects of your injury and ensures only that you are compensated for your current condition instead of its long-term effects, you are not being adequately represented. Your attorney must understand the impact and foreseeable consequences you will endure after your lawsuit is concluded.