The spinal column is composed of 33 unique bones, or vertebrae, which are stacked one on top of another, separated and cushioned by flexible, gel-filled intervertebral disks which prevent the bones from rubbing against one another. The spinal column protects the spinal cord, a bundle of nerves about the thickness of your thumb that runs inside the length of the spine. The column is protected, stabilized, and supported on the outside by a complex system of muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
Back pain is one of the most common health complaints by Americans. Back pain affects 8 out of 10 people at some point in their life. Most frequently, back pain is caused by an injury to the spinal cord or to the muscles and/or ligaments that surround and support the spinal bones. Even minor back injuries can cause persistent pain and may heal slowly because the back supports the entire body. If the pain does not go away after a few months, it may develop into a chronic condition.
Causes and Types of Back Injury
While injuries to the upper back, known as the “thoracic spine,” do occur, this portion of the back is somewhat stabilized by the ribs. Injuries to the lower back, known as the “lumbar region,” are much more common. The lumbar vertebrae, located between the chest and the hips, are the largest and strongest, but also most prone to injury. Injuries to the upper spine, or “cervical vertebrae,” usually present as neck pain. The sacrum, a bone in the lower spine composed of five fused vertebrae, and the coccyx (tailbone), composed of four fused vertebrae, may also suffer damage in an accident.
Back injuries can stem from both major and minor trauma. They are commonly caused by car accidents, sports injuries, accidents at work, a stab injury to the spine, and slipping and falling. They can also be caused by improper lifting technique, poor posture, or overstretching the back.
There are three main categories of back injuries, each associated with a different element of the spine.
- Sprains and strains occur when the muscles and/or ligaments surrounding the spine are traumatized. This can occur when a muscle is stretched beyond its capacity or the spine is quickly twisted, causing tiny tears in the tissue and reducing its ability to support the spine. The area around the injury may spasm, seize, or feel sore and stiff, and the spine may become less stable. There may also be pain in the buttocks and back of the thigh. Sprains or strains in the upper spine (neck) commonly stem from whiplash, a term for the sudden snapping, jerking, or hyperextension of the neck.
- A herniated disk may also be referred to as a slipped, prolapsed, bulging, compressed, or ruptured disk. This can occur when one of the soft disks the separate and cushion your vertebrae ruptures, which allows the fluid within to leak into the spinal column. This fluid can irritate the nerves, leading to back pain and sometimes pain and tingling that extends throughout the entire lower body in a condition called “sciatica.”
- Compression fractures can occur in any vertebrae in the spine, but they are most often found in the upper back or thoracic region of the spine. The fracture usually occurs in the front of the spine, called a wedge fracture, but may encompass the entire vertebrae, which is known as a crush or burst fracture. While this condition may cause some level of paralysis, often use of the limbs is maintained while the victim experiences acute or chronic back pain, limited spinal mobility, loss of height, and possible spinal deformity.
Treatment for back pain depends on the severity of the injury and the symptoms that are presented. For most strains or overuse injuries, heat and ice packs, light massage, and other the counter medication are recommended for immediate relief. Bed rest may actually cause a victim to recover more slowly, so light activity may be prescribed after a period of 24 to 48 hours. If the symptoms continue for more than two weeks, more aggressive treatment may be required.
Prescription painkillers such as opioids may be administered for short periods of time. Muscle relaxants can also be taken. In addition, muscle relaxants, steroids, or numbing medications may be injected into the muscles around the spine to reduce inflammation, pain, and stiffness. In some cases, back surgery may be attempted to reduce pain. This might involve removing bone growths, removing herniated disks and/or implanting synthetic disks, or fusing two vertebrae to reduce friction.
In almost all cases, patients require long-term treatment to prevent future injuries while managing and reducing pain from pre-existing ones. Physical therapy is often prescribed for back pain. This can increase mobility, strengthen the muscles surrounding and supporting the spinal column, and improve posture. Treatments such as chiropractic care, yoga, and electrical stimulation may also alleviate pain from back injuries.
Constructing a Case for Back Injury Claims
Recovering from a back injury can take time and patience, which can be difficult both financially and emotionally. Back injuries often stem from preventable accidents, and if your injury was caused by another party's negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. Awards for back injury claims vary widely because symptoms vary so much between individuals with different injuries. Experienced attorneys will often utilize expert witnesses from the medical field along with spinal images from fMRIs, CT scans, and X-rays.
Injuries resulting in chronic back pain will likely garner higher rewards because treatment and care can last a lifetime. Therefore, victims with spinal cord injuries, compression fractures, and herniated disks will make the highest claims. Strains, sprains, and whiplash, however, can also cause recurring pain throughout a victim's lifetime. Current and future emotional pain and suffering, lost future earnings, current and future medical care, and future life care must also be taken into account when putting together a personal injury claim.
Contact a Denver Back Injury Attorney
If you have been suffering from the pain and anxiety caused by a back injury, it is natural to consider litigation to help you get your life back to normal. The Law Firm of Jeremy Rosenthal has extensive experience in fighting for back injury compensation and knows how to maximize your reward. Call us now at 303.825.2223 or contact us online.