The spine provides the main support for the body. It is made up of 33 bones or vertebrae that interlock with each other to form the spinal column. The spinal cord runs through the spinal canal from the brainstem down through to the first lumbar vertebra, relaying messages between the brain and the body. The bony vertebra in the spine are separated by intervertebral discs which prevent the bones from rubbing together. These discs have a gel filled center called a nucleus, and the discs function like ball bearings when we move, allowing the vertebral bodies to roll over the gel nucleus.
The most severe type of spine injury occurs when there is damage to the spinal cord itself. This type of injury can result in paralysis below the point of injury and, in the most extreme cases, takes away a person’s ability to walk. The discs themselves are also susceptible to injury. Sudden acceleration or deceleration forces can result in bulging or herniated discs, sometimes causing tears in the discs. When the injury causes an impingement of a nerve in the spine, a person often experiences radiating pain into an arm or leg. This is called radiculopathy. Spinal injuries can be severe, painful and debilitating.
Often after an accident, a person experiences pain. However, the pain and the resulting radiculopathy (radiating pain including feelings of numbness and tingling) can worsen over time. Injuries to the intervertebral discs are not diagnosable on an x-ray. Rather, a treating doctor, often a spine surgeon or neurosurgeon, will order an MRI or CT scan if he or she is worried about a disc injury. If the pain progresses, a pain management physician may recommend an injection or block into the spine which can function as both a diagnostic and therapeutic tool. Ultimately, surgical intervention is available through surgeries including fusing the discs or replacing them in certain circumstances.
As the plaintiff, you have the burden of proof, and in a civil case, that burden is a preponderance of the evidence. This means that we must prove that it is more probable that not (ie, more than 50% chance) that the spine injury was caused by the accident. This is where expert witnesses are crucial. Medical experts help explain to a jury how the diagnosis was reached. It is important to remember that the defense commonly claims that the injured person had pre-existing degeneration of the spine. However, under the law, a person must be compensated if an underlying condition was worsened or exacerbated because of an accident.
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