Burger Law, St Louis personal injury law firm, represents many people who sustain serious neck and back injuries in accidents. These types of injuries are particularly devastating because of the important role the spine plays in our anatomy. Our clients’ lives are significantly impacted by the long road to recovery and undue hardship placed on their families.
When you are injured in an accident – whether it is a car crash, slip and fall or workplace accident – it is important that you take the steps necessary to recover as fully as possible. If your accident was caused by the carelessness or negligence of another, you have the right to pursue compensation for your medical bills and expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and disability and disfigurement. It is important to work with a personal injury attorney when you are recovering from this serious of an injury because you have only one chance to recover your damages from the liable party. We will discuss this in greater detail later in this post.
Anatomy of Neck and Back
Our necks and backs consist of bones, nerves, muscles, ligaments and tendons. Our spine spans from the length of our neck to our lower back and is broken down into sections: the cervical spine, thoracic spine, lumbar spine, sacrum (or sacral region) and the coccyx (or tailbone). The spinal cord is the highway that allows our message center (the brain) to communicate and control the rest of the body. Any interference or irritation wreaks havoc on our ability to function normally and can be a significant source of pain.
The cervical spine consists of the cervical vertebrae with cervical discs in between. It supports the head and provides the flexibility you need to turn your neck from side to side and to rock it from front to back. The cervical discs, composed of collagen and ligaments, carry the bulk of the workload by acting as shock absorbers between the cervical vertebrae, holding the vertebrae together and allowing for the movement of the neck. This area of the spine also provides the path for blood flow to the brain. When you hear about C1, C2, C3, C4, C5, C6, and C7, you are hearing about the area known as the cervical spine.
Trauma to the cervical spine and nerves can result in pain, numbness, tingling or the functional loss of the diaphragm, shoulders, biceps, arms, wrists, hands and fingers.
The thoracic spine consists of twelve vertebrae that hold the body upright and, combined with our rib cages, protects the vital organs located in the chest. The thoracic discs are thinner in the thoracic spine, causing this area of the spine to have limited flexibility. The spinal canal is at its smallest in this area of the back, making the spinal cord more vulnerable to damage if the thoracic spine is injured. The vertebrae T1, T2, T3, T4, T5, T6, T7, T8, T9, T10, T11, and T12 are positioned in this area of the spine.
Trauma to the thoracic spine can cause upper back pain and nerve injuries that affect the shoulders. Other muscles compensate for injuries to this area of the spine, causing pain to resonate throughout the upper body.
The lumbar spine consists of five intervertebral segments in the lower back and provides the power and flexibility necessary to lift, twist and bend. The vertebrae in the lumbar spine are connected to the back of the spine by facet joints. These joints allow for flexibility in the lower back. Nerve roots branch out and continue down all the way to the feet after the spinal column ends between the thoracic and lumbar spine. Because this section of the spine bears the most weight and provides the most flexibility, it is more vulnerable to injury. The vertebrae L1, L2, L3, L4, and L5 are located in this area of the spine.
Trauma to the lumbar spine can cause pain, tingling and loss of range of motion in the lower back, legs, ankles, feet and toes. This area of the spine is also most prone to disc herniation and spondylolisthesis. A herniated disc occurs when the gel-like inner core of the intervertebral disc leaks out and puts direct pressure on the nerves that run through the spine, also referred to as nerve impingement. Spondylolisthesis occurs when a vertebra slips over the one below it causing compression on the nerve root.
The sacrum consists of five segments of fused bone and is located between the lumbar spine and the tailbone. This region supports the back of the pelvis and forms the sacroiliac joints at the hip bone. The sacral nerves and blood vessels run through this area of the spine. Since it is fairly stable, most pain that arises from trauma to this region occurs where the lumbar spine connects to the sacral region.
The coccyx or tailbone consists of four fused vertebrae and is located at the base of the spine at the bottom of the sacrum. This part of the spine serves as the shock absorber for your back when you are in a sitting position.
Most physicians, chiropractors, and physiatrists like to initially recommend conservative treatment when an injury occurs to the neck or back. Most injuries get better within six weeks and typically require conservative measures like physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications.
Epidural steroid injections are considered a more aggressive form of treatment. Steroids do not heal the back but provide enough relief from inflammation to allow the back to heal.
If neck and back pain is not relieved with conservative measures, your doctor may refer you to an orthopedic spine surgeon or neuro spine surgeon for an evaluation of surgical options. Common neck and back surgeries include fusion surgery, vertebroplasty, laminectomy, and microdiscectomy. Surgical options can be minimally invasive, but some surgeries are more extensive and require more of the surgical site to be exposed. The decision to move forward with surgery is entirely elective because of the invasive nature of the treatment and the inability to guarantee results. Some people who undergo a surgical procedure may require additional surgeries in the future. Discuss the success rates of your recommended procedure with your doctor.
Working with a Lawyer
If another person or business is responsible for your spine injury, the liable party can be held legally responsible for the damages you sustained in the accident. Serious spine injuries requiring long-term treatment or even surgery often result in extensive damages and a high liability situation for the responsible party. A personal injury attorney with experience representing neck, back, and spine injury victims can help you determine the value of your economic and non-economic damages that can be recovered from the accident.
Speak with a back injury attorney about the following compensable damages:
Medical Bills and Expenses: You can seek compensation for the past and future medical bills arising from the accident. This includes the cost of medication, physical therapy, doctor’s visits, medical devices, among other things. It is important that you work with your personal injury lawyer to accurately determine the cost of future medical care since many back injuries have lifelong consequences.
Wage Loss: You can seek compensation for any lost income arising from the accident. This includes lost income immediately following the accident and during the course of your treatment as well as any expected future reduction in your earning capacity as a worker. When you are looking at a serious reduction in your earning capacity, your attorney may want to work with an economist to determine the value of your diminished earning capacity.
Pain and Suffering: You can seek compensation for the undue pain and inconvenience of your injury. Your St Louis injury attorney can help you determine the value of your pain and suffering.
Loss of Consortium: In cases with serious spine injuries, loss of consortium damages may be pursued if the spouse or children are deprived of the normal and loving companionship of the injury victim.
Disfigurement: You can seek compensation for permanent scarring as a result of your injury. In order to determine the value of your disfigurement, your attorney may want to send you to a plastic surgeon to determine the cost of having the scar reduced as much as possible.
Disability: You can seek compensation for the permanent or partial loss of function. Your attorney will make sure that you have the opinions and testimony of the appropriate medical professionals to support your claim for disability compensation.
If you choose to hire a personal injury attorney for your back injury claim, your attorney will negotiate with the insurance carriers of the liable parties, will help you determine the true value of your damages and can take legal action if a lawsuit needs to be filed. Because insurance companies already have their own legal team assigned to your case, you should seriously consider having your own legal counsel. Your attorney will navigate the case law and help you achieve a full and fair recovery for your injuries.
It is important to choose an injury lawyer wisely. Since you have only one chance to receive compensation from the liable party, it is important that you hire legal counsel that has the experience, resources and network of experts necessary to accurately value your spine injury case. If you settle your case and have medical issues that arise in the future, you cannot go back to the liable party and recover more money.