The spine and all of its components are very susceptible to injury during a car accident. In fact, back injuries are some of the most common complaints accident victims bring us. Annular tears, or tears of the outer layer of a spinal disc, can cause substantial pain and temporary disability.
Victims of accidents can seek compensation for their injuries from either their own insurance company, or by suing an at-fault party or filing a claim with that party’s insurance company (if they carry a traditional insurance policy.)
If you were in an auto accident and you have developed back pain, see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment. Waiting will only worsen matters. Also, be sure to consult a local car accident attorney to learn what your legal options are and how to best pursue compensation.
What is an annular tear?
Between each vertebra, there are shock absorbing spinal discs that protect the spinal cord and nerves. These discs cushion the vertebrae and allow the spine to move and bend. Each small, spongy disc comprises four main parts:
- A vertebral end plate above and below the disk
- A centrally located oval-shaped pressurized part known as the nucleus pulposis
- A thin fibrous tissue, known as the annulus fibrosus, that surrounds the nucleus pulposis
- Nerves around the outermost edge
An annular tear occurs when the annulus, that protective layer of tissue around the disc, sustains damage and rips or tears. The annulus can be torn as a result of bodily trauma such as in a sporting accident, a slip and fall, or an auto accident. When the annulus tear is severe, the gel-like contents of the disc can push through this tear, causing a painful disc herniation or a bulging disc.
With some annual tears and disc herniations, the nucleus pulposis breaks through and bulges outside of the disc, pinching or pushing the nerve fibers aside. This can cause pain, as well as varying degrees of numbness and tingling.
Three types of tears commonly occur in the different layers of the annulus.
- Peripheral tears, which occur on the outer layers of the annulus
- Concentric tears, which occur between the layers of the annulus
- Radial tears, which begin at the center of the disc and radiate the outer layers of the annulus (usually brought about by aging)
How do car accidents cause tears?
The natural aging process causes most annular tears. “By the age of 30, most people’s intervertebral discs have begun to degenerate to a certain degree. This degeneration can lead to annular tears with repetitive motion since the annulus is in a weakened state,” explains the Virginia Spine Institute.
However, sudden trauma can also cause an annular tear. Tears can occur when an impact places too much pressure on your vertebral discs, such as when an object, e.g., the metal frame of your car, crushes you in an accident.
How do doctors diagnose annular tears?
Annular tears are often difficult to diagnose because they may not show up on your MRI scan. Symptoms that indicate an annular tear include:
- Back pain
- Leg pain
- Pain that worsens when sitting as opposed to standing
If you have these symptoms, your doctor may order a discography test, or discogram, to identify any damage to the components of the disc.
A discogram is essentially an enhanced X-ray. The doctor will inject dye into the discs in question. The dye will be clearly visible on the fluoroscopic x-ray film. Healthy discs will allow for a certain amount of dye to enter the disc, and will not cause any pain. If a disc has structural damage such as an annular tear, the doctor will see dye emitting from the disc after injection.
How might an annular tear affect my life?
Annular tears often take longer to heal than most back injuries, and cause considerable pain and discomfort. Anything that places pressure on the spine, such as sitting, coughing, sneezing, lifting, etc., will aggravate the injury and increase pain.
An annular tear can take months to heal. You will be unable to perform even simple everyday activities without pain for some time. Pain and lack of mobility can affect every aspect of your life.
You will need help around the house for simple tasks and chores. Your injury may put your social life on hold, too. You will likely have to take a substantial amount of time off work because you will be limited in what tasks you can do. This, in turn, has the potential to cause huge financial stress if you, like many people, do not have several months of income saved up. You will still have bills to pay, not to mention the mounting medical bills for the care you need.
In addition, the whole strain and frustration of the injury, combined with financial issues, can cause a rift in your family and your marriage.
What treatments are available for annular tears?
Doctors will usually recommend conservative treatments first, which include:
- Physical therapy
- Pain medication
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Hot/cold therapy
- Low-impact exercise
- Chiropractic treatment
- Epidural steroid injections
If the injury does not respond to these treatments, the doctor may recommend more advanced treatments such a surgery. Surgery is normally a last resort for annular tears because it is risky and not all surgical treatments are successful.
How do I prove my injuries and get compensation?
You will need to compile adequate evidence that proves your injuries and their effect on your life. You can accomplish this using your medical records and diagnostic test results, testimonies from medical experts, and an injury journal that you keep to document the effects and progress of your condition.
The more thorough you are with your evidence, the more likely the insurance company or courts are to award you with a full and fair settlement. It is highly recommended to have an attorney assist you with the process and ensure you take the steps necessary to prove and win your case.
For legal help from a car accident attorney in Pennsylvania that regularly handles back injury cases, call Cordisco & Saile LLC. Contact us today at 215-642-2335 and request a free consultation.