Do you have a herniated or bulging disc from a work-related accident or auto accident?  If so, you may be entitled to benefits or a substantial settlement.

Many, if not most, of the clients that we represent, have neck and back injuries. Our client's pain and symptoms are often so severe.  Maybe you are in that same situation. It is possible that your neck and back symptoms are so severe because you have a herniated disc or bulging disc in your neck or back.  These conditions can be very painful and very often require surgery to alleviate the pain.

 Unfortunately, since medical treatment for herniated discs and bulging discs are expensive, many of these claims are contested by insurance companies.  Insurance companies are aware that lost time from work, permanent impairment and medical treatment can make a workers compensation claim very expensive. Similarly, if you were injured in an auto accident, the potential for compensation from pain and suffering that you have experienced can be costly to the insurance company.  

 One tactic that workers compensation insurance companies use to try to control what medical treatment is related to an accident for a neck or back injury is to initially accept a “neck strain” or “back sprain”.  Fortunately, the insurance company does not have the final say in which injuries are included as a result of your accident. If you were injured at work, the Virginia Workers Compensation Commission (and the courts) have the final say.  If you were injured in an auto accident, a jury of your peers and/or judges have the final say on the amount of compensation you are entitled to receive if a suitable settlement offer is not offered by the insurance company.

Common Questions about herniated and bulging disc injuries:

          1. What exactly is a herniated disc?

The spine is one of the most complex bone structures in our body. So much of how we function and the degree to which we can function is controlled by our spine and the tissues and nerves running through the spine.  The spine is made of several discs with space between the discuss.

These discs can be injured when tissues on the outer part of the disc tear or rupture.  A very important part of the disc, called a nucleus pulposus, can herniate or be pushed out of the disc space.

When this happens the inside of the disc can impact the nerves that wrap around each disc.  Very often, this interference is in the form of pressure on the discs and this pressure can cause pain, numbness and other symptoms in the spine and even into your arms and legs.  Disc herniations can be small and they can be big. Even small herniations are often very painful. Various names are given by doctors to talk about your disc i.e. pinched nerve, stenosis and degenerative disc disease.  

There is a difference between herniated discs and bulging discs but doctors and other professionals very often use the words as if they are interchangeable.  Here are some of the similarities and differences:

  • When the inner part of the disc material exceeds normal margins of the inner circumference of the disc, this is called a bulging disc.
  • When less the injury involves displacement of less than 50% of the area around the spinal disc, this is considered a herniated disc.
  • Don't be fooled: Bulging discs and herniated discs can damage the nerves in the spine.  If the insurance company in your case attempts to minimize the nature of your injury, you can use this knowledge to fight back.

       2.   How is a herniated disc diagnosed?

Most of the time this will happen after you see an orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon although primary care physicians very often recognize the symptoms and offer a tentative diagnosis.  The process of diagnosing a herniated disc will likely include the following:

  • Your medical provider will take a detailed history of how you were injured.  This history very often ends up in the physician's office notes and may be useful for reference in your case.  Your physician will ask you to describe your pain and symptoms and the manner in which you were injured. Tip: It is best to be as specific as possible.
  • Your physician will probably perform a physical examination.  This will include touching the area of your neck or back that is in pain and other tests, including, reflex tests.  
  • If your medical history and the physician's physical examination suggest that you have a herniated disc, your physician may recommend that you have an MRI or CT scan to take a picture of you neck or back.  This can be used to confirm the diagnosis or demonstrate that something else is going on with your back.

         3.  What causes herniated discs?

 There are many potential causes of herniated discs:

  • Traumatic accidents cause many herniated discs
  • Repetitive trauma i.e. lifting many boxes over the course of time can cause a herniated.  
  • Falls from heights are a frequent cause of many types of injuries including herniated discs.
  • Lifting heavy items at work -- This is the cause of many work-injury related herniated discs.

       4.  What types of treatment are available for my herniated disc or bulging disc?

Relief of pain and allowing injured people to function better is the goal of medical treatment for herniated discs.  Many injuries follow a typical course of treatment:

  • “Conservative” treatment is usually the starting point for most doctors treating a herniated disc.  This consists of rest, pain medications, physical therapy and sometimes injections.
  • When conservative treatment fails, very often your orthopedist or neurosurgeon will recommend surgery.  There are many types of surgical procedures to treat herniated discus:
    • lumbar decompression surgery
    • Fusions of the spine
    • Laminectomy
    • Microdiscectomy 

          5.  Do my symptoms prove that I have a herniated disc? 

             It depends.  The location of your herniated disc can result in different types of symptoms:

  •  Lumbar Spine (Low Back)  
      • A vast majority of herniated discs happen in the lumbar spine. More than 80 percent of herniated discs occur in the lumbar spine.
      • Leg pain usually accompanies a herniated disc in the lumbar spine.
      • Because the nerve roots often impinge, pain and weakness in the legs can occur and can go all the way to the toes.
      • Similarly, a herniated disc at certain levels can cause radiation into toes and feet.
  • Cervical Spine (Neck)
      • If you have a herniated disc at C4-C5, the impingement on the nerves can cause upper arm weakness and shoulder pain.
      • At C5-C6 impingement at the nerve root can cause weakness in your biceps and wrist muscles.
      • If you experience weakness in your triceps and fingers, you may have impingement at C6-C7.  
      • Problems with hand manipulation, including gripping, may be a result of a herniated disc at C7-T1.
  • Thoracic Spine (Mid-Back)
    • These are less common but can be serious and can require surgery and other treatment. 

             6.  Other Issues that arise in cases involving herniated disc injuries

  • What if I am diagnosed with degenerative disc disease? Can this condition be covered?  I recommend you read our article here about how accidents can aggravate or accelerate conditions like degenerative disc disease.
  • What type of Virginia Workers Compensation benefits can I obtain for my herniated disc injury? Please go here for a detailed summary of the types of benefits that can be obtained in a Virginia Workers Compensation case?
  • What if my herniated disc arose from a car accident? See our article here to read an overview of personal injury settlements.

At the end of the day, our Justice system is designed to compensate for injuries with money.  Of course, every accident and every injury is different. To truly evaluate the value of your claim, a detailed review of your injuries, medical bills and the circumstances surrounding your accident should be done by an attorney who handles workers compensation and personal injury cases.

We are here to help!  please call our firm for a free consultation at 434-847-9066 or email us at help@ajr.law.  We assist injured people all across Virginia.