Some of the most common injuries people receive when they’re involved in motor vehicle accidents are neck injuries. This part of the body, otherwise known as the cervical spine, is highly likely to become injured during a serious car accident. Depending on the severity of the injury, surgical intervention such as microdiscectomy may be required.
The cervical spine is commonly injured in accidents due to the nature of many types of collisions. When a person is rear-ended, for example, the force of the impact causes the neck to rapidly jerk forward and backward. This can cause injury to the soft, pulpy discs between the vertebrae of the spinal column. Sometimes, discs can rupture or tear and disc material can leak into the spinal column.
If this damaged disc material presses into the spinal cord, it can be extremely painful. Some other symptoms of disc injury include numbness and tingling in the extremities. This is also known as radiculopathy. When a disc in the cervical spine is damaged, an injury victim usually experiences radiculopathy in the arms or hands.
Doctors use many different methods to determine the extent of a cervical spine injury. One of the most common diagnostic tests used to take a closer look at the spinal discs is an MRI. An MRI gives a detailed picture of the soft tissues of the body, including muscles, tendons, and discs. A doctor will use an MRI to determine whether or not a spinal disc has been damaged, and if it has, to assess the extent of the injury.
Sometimes, cervical spine injuries can be resolved with physical therapy. An injury victim can learn stretches and exercises that strengthen the muscles in and around the neck. If physical therapy doesn’t resolve an accident victim’s pain and radiculopathy, more serious procedures are considered.
Cervical Epidural Steroid Injections
In an epidural steroid injection, numbing medication and anti-inflammatory medication is injected into the epidural spaces in the vertebrae, which are the spaces around the vertebrae and the nerve roots. This medication calms the nerve roots in the spine and can provide permanent or temporary relief. If the ESI does not provide permanent relief, more serious treatments may be considered.
Radio Frequency Ablation
RFA can be used to kill damaged nerve tissue in an attempt to resolve pain. Radio waves are used to create heat that destroys the damaged nerve tissue that has been sending pain signals to the brain. The effects of RFA can last for a lot longer than the effects of ESI’s, and many patients with cervical spine pain can find lasting relief from the procedure.
If these procedures do not bring lasting relief, it is sometimes necessary for an accident injury victim to undergo surgery to repair the damage. Several different procedures deal with surgically removing damaged disc material from the nerve root area.
In a laminectomy procedure, a small piece of bone is removed from the vertebrae of the damaged disc. Sometimes this is done to increase space within the vertebrae so the spinal nerves are less constricted. Sometimes it is done as part of a larger surgical disc procedure, and allows the surgeon more access to the nerves and discs.
A discectomy is the removal of the part of the spinal disc that is herniated and is pushing into the spinal canal, or the removal of the loose fragments of disc that have come loose and entered the spinal canal. This procedure is frequently performed in conjunction with a laminectomy. It is an invasive surgical procedure and can involve removing the entire disc from between two vertebrae.
In a microdiscectomy, the joints, ligaments, and muscles around the spine are left intact. A special microscope is used to allow the surgeon to see the area of the discs and nerve roots. In this type of procedure, a fusion is not performed. In a fusion surgery, bone material or a metal plate is inserted into the spine, and frequently held in place with screws.
In in this procedure, a surgeon typically enters the spine through the back, or posterior, of the body. In a traditional fusion surgery, the vertebrae is accessed through the neck, or front of the body. Because the surgeon enters the spinal area posteriorly, it is not the best procedure for every type of disc herniation. For instance, this procedure is usually only performed for a disc herniation that is off to one side of the spine or the other, as visibility is limited in this type of surgery.
In some cases, none of the above procedures allow an injury patient complete relief. Even if a surgery is performed successfully, it is very common for patients to still experience pain. Many cervical spine injury victims receive pain management treatment for an extended period of time. A pain management doctor will employ methods such a medication therapy to help an injury victim lead a normal life with as little pain as possible.
As you can see, there are numerous procedures used to treat neck pain and cervical spine injuries. Depending on the severity of an injury suffered by a car accident victim, one or several of these treatments may be employed. If you or a loved one have sustained a neck injury as the result of a car accident, you need an experienced attorney to ensure you receive adequate compensation from the insurance company.