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Minneapolis Back Injury Lawyer

The spine is made up of a column of 33 vertebrae, and tissue extending from the skull to the pelvis. These vertebrae enclose and protect a cylinder of nerve tissues known as the spinal cord. Between each of the vertebra is an intervertebral disc that serves as a shock absorber between the vertebrae. The discs make up 25 percent of the length of the spinal column. The types of vertebrae are:

  • cervical vertebrae: the upper most seven vertebrae of the neck
  • thoracic vertebrae: the 12 bones between the neck and the lower back
  • lumbar vertebrae: the 5 largest and strongest vertebrae in the lower back
  • The other nine vertebrae are in the sacrum and coccyx, and located at the base of the spine. The sacrum is a section of 5 fused vertebrae, while the coccyx (tailbone) is four vertebrae fused together.

Most of the back injuries occur in either the cervical or lumbar regions. A back injury may be sustained in a car accident, truck accident, motorcycle accident, or slip and fall accident. There are many types of back injuries, including:

Bulging Disc Injuries

Many bulging disc injuries are from deceleration in a car accident when the spine is restrained and bent over the seat belt, many times at an angle. A bulging disc most often occurs in the lower back, but may occur in the neck.

When the spine is stressed and pulled out of place, it can put uneven pressure on the disc and cause irritation and damage. A bulging disc can protrude into the spinal canal causing pain and potentially long-term repercussions if the disc ruptures or becomes herniated.

The spine is critical to the overall health of the body. The discs keep the spine flexible, allowing twisting, bending, and basically all physical activity. The gel in the discs absorb the stress of all the body movement. When a disc bulges or compresses, it can cause narrowing of the spinal canal leading to limited, painful movement.

A bulging disc is less severe than a ruptured or herniated disc, but if it goes undiagnosed or untreated may lead to the more serious ruptured or herniated disc.

Bulging Disc Diagnosis & Treatment

An x-ray will not reveal anything about the health of the disc, but may be used to verify the health of the bones. A physical exam and MRI are the best ways to diagnose a bulging disc.

A bulging disc may heal with rest and physical therapy. If the bulging disc becomes more serious by rupturing, surgery may be necessary to remove part of the disc or the entire disc. At this point, they may replace the disc with a synthetic disc or fuse the segments to prevent movement and instability.

A back injury can be life-altering, leading to chronic or acute pain, as well as muscle weakness, lack of muscle coordination, numbness and/or tingling in the extremities.

(Chronic pain is defined as deep, aching, dull, burning pain that lasts a long time and is not relieved by standard types of medical management. Acute pain is a very sharp pain or a dull ache that can be intermittent, but is usually constant, and ranging in severity.)

Burst Fractures

A burst fracture is a spinal injury in which the vertebral body is severely compressed, sometimes to the point of shattering into surrounding tissue and the spinal canal. These fractures occur from extreme trauma, as in a car accident, truck accident, or motorcycle accident.

In a burst fracture, the edges (margin) of the vertebral body are fragmented and spread out in all directions. When the entire margin of the vertebral body is crushed, the spine loses its stability. The bony fragments can bruise the spinal cord causing loss of strength, sensation, and reflexes below the level of the injury. Burst fractures are categorized by:

  • the severity of the deformity
  • to what degree the fragments have invaded the spinal canal
  • the degree of vertebral height loss
  • the extent of neurologic injury

At the scene of the accident, if the victim complains of severe back pain they should not be put into a sitting position. If they stand or walk with a burst fracture, they may increase their neurologic injury.

To diagnose a burst fracture x-rays, CAT scan, and possibly an MRI will be needed to determine:

  • the level of the fracture
  • the type of fracture (compression, burst, or fracture dislocation)
  • the amount of spinal canal compromise
  • spinal angulation
  • the amount of soft tissue trauma
  • bleeding
  • ligament damage

Stable Burst Fracture

A stable burst fracture has little to no neurologic injury and the posterior column is uninjured and remains functional and can be treated without surgery. Treatment with a brace can be very effective. The brace is worn for 8-12 weeks to ensure adequate healing. Physical therapy will be prescribed once the brace is removed.

Unstable Burst Fracture

A burst fracture is ruled unstable if there is:

  • neurologic injury
  • angulation of the spine is greater than 20 degrees
  • there is dislocation of the spine
  • loss of more than 50% of anterior vertebral body height
  • there is greater than 30% spinal canal compromise

Unstable burst fractures do better with early surgery. A reduction maneuver may be performed to straighten the spine. Another treatment option is spinal fusion, with bone graft, to help injured vertebrae heal. Fragments pressing on the spinal canal, may be moved into a better position by a spinal laminectomy.

After any stabilizing surgery, some type of bracing is required for 8-10 weeks. Once the bracing is removed, physical therapy will be necessary to strengthen the trunk and lower extremities.

Compression Fractures

The spine is comprised of 24 vertebrae. The main section of each vertebra is a large, round segment called the vertebral body. A compression fracture causes the vertebral body to collapse in height on one side. Severe compression fractures, as can happen in vehicle accidents, can push fragments of bone into the spinal column and impinge upon the spinal cord. The resultant damage can be partial or complete paralysis from the point of fracture and below.

Compression Fracture Symptoms:

  • pain in the neck and back
  • sporadic pain in the hips, abdomen, or thighs
  • numbness
  • tingling
  • weakness
  • loss of control of bladder or bowels

Treatment of Compression Fractures

Some traumatic compression fractures can heal without surgery. The most common treatments are medication to control the pain, decrease daily activity, and bracing. The brace is molded to conform tightly to the body and supports the back, restricting movement. In addition to preventing the wearer from bending forward, the brace holds the spine in a hyper-extended state. This takes most of the pressure off the vertebral body, allowing it to heal.

Severe fractures may need surgery to stabilize the vertebrae adjacent to the fracture site. As with any surgery, there is a risk of complications — and since you are dealing with the spine and spinal cord, they can be extremely serious. The complications include:

  • chronic pain
  • partial or total paralysis
  • the need for an additional surgery

Compression fractures take a minimum of 3 months to heal completely.

Facet Joint Injury

The spine is comprised of many facet joints. The design of the facet joint allows for bending and twisting of the back and neck. Additionally, there is a correlation between good facet joint health and body strength, flexibility, and range of motion.

Facet joint injury is the most common cause of neck pain after an accident and can result in neurological damage. There can be dislocation of the facet joint, accompanied by soft tissue swelling, tearing of a ligament, compression of the nerves, and disruption of blood supply.

Symptoms of Facet Joint Injuries

40% of the time there is a delay in the diagnosis of facet joint injury. They are initially diagnosed as soft tissue injuries, because they do not show up on x-rays or MRIs. The 2 sections of the spine that sustain most of the facet joint injuries are the neck and the lower back.

The symptoms of cervical (neck) facet joint injury are:

  • headaches
  • neck pain
  • upper back pain
  • shoulder pain radiating into the arms
  • sleep apnea
  • dizziness

The symptoms of lumbar (lower back) facet joint injury are:

  • low back pain
  • pain radiating into the buttocks, hips, thighs, and groin

Common Causes of Facet Joint Injury

Although some facet joint injuries are age-related, most of them are a result of trauma sustained in:

  • Car Accidents
  • Truck Accidents
  • Bicycle Accidents
  • Motorcycle Accidents
  • Pedestrian Accidents
  • Slip and Fall Injuries

Treatment of Facet Joint Injury

Conservative care options are as follows:

  • Chiropractic
  • Physical Therapy
  • Restraining Collar or Back Brace
  • Cervical Traction
  • Injections

Aggressive treatment options are:

  • Radiofrequency Neurotomy (RFN)
  • Spinal Fusion

Herniated Disc Injuries

A herniated disc is when the nerve root has been irritated or damaged. A herniated disc can cause neck pain, arm pain, back pain, and / or leg pain, depending on which segment of the spine is involved. A herniated disc may also be referred to as:

  • ruptured disc
  • bulging disc
  • slipped disc

About Herniated Discs

A herniated disc occurs when part of the spinal disc / pad breaks through its fibrous, cartilage covering and presses on the spinal nerve. Common causes for herniated discs:

  • sudden pressure put on the disc from a:
    • car accident
    • slip and fall accident
    • work-related accident
  • repetitive, strenuous action
  • improper lifting

Symptoms of a Herniated Disc

Left untreated, the consequences from a herniated disc can be very serious. Symptoms to be aware of:

  • lower back pain (more than routine ache)
  • weakness in leg
  • tingling or numbness in leg or buttocks
  • sciatica
  • burning neck pain
  • compromised bowel or bladder control

Ruptured Disc Injuries

The spine is literally the backbone of good health. The vertebrae are critical in the weight-bearing capacity of the spine and provide protection and support for the spinal cord — which is a bundle of nerves connecting the brain to the entire body, facilitating all movement and organ function.

Between every vertebrae is a small, gel-filled cartilage disc that provides a cushion between the segments of the spine. When the spine is damaged or stressed in a car accident or severe fall, the disc can rupture. A ruptured disc bulges out, sometimes irritating or pressing directly on a nerve. A ruptured disc (disk) may be referred to as a herniated disc, slipped disc, or a bulging disc.

Ruptured Disc Symptoms

The symptoms of a ruptured disc vary, but may include the following:

  • swelling
  • back pain
  • muscle weakness
  • tingling
  • decreased reflexes
  • pain radiating into a limb

In some cases, a spinal injury will interfere with bowel and bladder function. If that happens, seek immediate medical attention because this is not a normal ruptured disc symptom.

Types of Soft Tissue Injuries

  • Sprain: A sprain is a stretch or tear of a ligament. The ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect bone to bone. The joints most often sustaining ligament damage in accidents are shoulders, wrists, knees, and ankles. The lumbar region of the spine can also sustain a sprain.
  • Strain: A strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon. Tendons connect the muscles to the bones. The back, knees, and ankles account for most of the muscle / tendon strains in car accidents or work accidents.
  • Contusion: A contusion is a deep bruise, where blood pools around an injury. Left untreated, contusions can cause permanent damage to the tendons, ligaments, and muscles.
  • Subluxation: Subluxation is when you have misaligned vertebrae. When this happens it puts pressure on nerves, disrupts the signals to and from the brain, and interferes with the blood supply — which will allow deterioration of the surrounding tendons, ligaments, and muscles.

A blunt injury to soft tissue can produce localized tissue hypoxia (lack of oxygen) and acidosis (increased hydrogen). The integrity of the soft tissue needs to be determined prior to any surgery. An incision through compromised soft tissue can lead to wound breakdown and deep infection.

Treatment of Soft Tissue Injuries

The management and treatment of soft tissue injuries is basically the mnemonic “R-I-C-E”: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. The injured tissue needs to be protected, in some cases splints, braces, or tape is recommended.

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spine in one or more of the following areas:

  • space at the center of the spine
  • the canals where the nerves branch out from the spine
  • space between the vertebrae

The narrowing puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. The symptoms of spinal stenosis may be subtle, appearing slowly over time and gradually getting worse. Signs of spinal stenosis include:

  • neck pain
  • back pain
  • shoulder pain
  • arm pain
  • numbness, weakness, cramping in arms or legs
  • lack of coordination
  • lack of balance when walking
  • bowel or bladder incontinence

Treatments of Spinal Stenosis

Sometimes spinal stenosis can be controlled without surgery. The nonsurgical treatments include:

  • medication to reduce swelling
  • medication to relieve pain
  • limit activity
  • physical therapy
  • back brace

If surgery is required for spinal stenosis, a laminectomy will be performed to ease the narrowing. During a laminectomy the surgeon removes part of the vertebrae and thickened tissue to relieve compression of the spinal cord and nerves.

Need Help? Contact Us Today

TSR Injury Law has obtained another large recovery in a back injury case. Steve Terry represented a driver of a commercial vehicle who was side swiped, causing his vehicle to hit a concrete median. The client required both neck and lower back surgery.

Contact our Minnesota Back Injury Lawyers at 612-TSR-TIME. We represent back injury victims in Albert Lea, Bloomington, Duluth, Minneapolis, St. Cloud, St. Paul, and the entire state of Minnesota.

Ph: (612) TSR-TIME

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