Many car accident victims experience neck injuries. This area of the body, otherwise known as the cervical spine, is vulnerable to injury in many kinds of accidents. In a collision, the body is jerked around violently, and damage is often done to the muscles and tendons in the neck. However, some injuries involve more than just the muscular tissue. It is not uncommon for victims of serious auto collisions to sustain injuries to the spine or spinal discs. neck image
The spine is made up of 33 bony vertebrae that house and protect the spinal canal. 24 of those vertebrae are separated by intervertebral discs. The vertebrae themselves are solid bone, and the discs sit between the vertebrae to facilitate movement and flexibility. Discs are made up of firm cartilage over a pulpy center, and hold the vertebrae together.
The discs, vertebrae, or both can be easily injured in a car accident. A strong impact can cause fractured vertebrae or ruptured discs. Both of these injuries are very serious and can be very painful. Since the vertebrae house the spinal nerves, an injury to the spinal area can cause symptoms throughout the rest of the body. The cervical spine area houses the nerves that extend into the arms and hands, so injury victims who have undergone damage in the discs of the neck may feel numbness and tingling throughout the arms and hands. This is known as radiculopathy, and its presence is one of the ways a doctor can determine whether or not the cervical spine discs have been damaged.
When a disc ruptures or tears, it can leak into the spinal canal and press against the nerves there. This causes pain and radiculopathy. If conservative treatment doesn’t relieve the symptoms of the injury, surgery may be necessary to relieve the pain. A discectomy is a removal of part of the intervertebral disk. This can include part of the disc that is pushing into the spinal canal, or bits of the disc that have broken off from the larger disc and are floating around in the canal.
Frequently, patients who undergo a discectomy also undergo a spinal fusion surgery at the same time. In a fusion procedure, a plate made of bone or metal is inserted into the spine, and holds the vertebrae in place with screws. Since the purpose of a disc is to allow movement and flexibility between the vertebrae, the absence of a disc or part of a disc may necessitate this fusion.
Sometimes it is necessary for a surgeon to perform a laminectomy, which involves removing a small piece of bone from the vertebrae. This can be necessary if a vertebra has fractured and a piece of bone has entered to spinal canal. It can also be necessary to remove part of a vertebra to allow a surgeon better access to a damaged disk.
A less invasive procedure called a microdiscectomy can also relieve symptoms of disc damage. Unlike many discectomy procedures, a microdiscectomy does not require a fusion of the vertebrae. Instead, the surgeon removes the parts of a disc that are visible from the posterior surgical opening. In a fusion surgery, the incision is made in the front of the body rather than the back. A miscrodiscectomy is not the right procedure for every disc injury, but is much less invasive than older methods and a good alternative to those with injuries that can be successfully treated this way.
A motor vehicle collision can cause very serious injuries. If you have hurt your neck in an accident, you should seek medical treatment right away. Make sure you tell your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of radiculopathy, as this can be an indication of disc damage.
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