I know how debilitating auto accident injuries can be. Whiplash, wrist injuries, and hand fractures are all common auto accident injuries that can lead to discomfort, but typically see full recovery. An auto accident spinal injury, however, can be a permanent debilitating injury.
There are 24 vertebrae in the spinal column and each is separated by a spinal disk, which is a liquid filled disk that provides cushioning and protection to the bones and spinal cord. In an auto accident the force can push a spinal disk out of place which not only enables the bones to rub against each other causing discomfort, but can also put pressure on the nerve leading to extreme pain. If one of these disks is out of place in the lower 5 vertebrae It is a lumbar disk herniation which can cause intense low back pain.
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In addition to back pain from the slipped disk, if the nerve is pinched or damaged the legs can feel weak, numb and tingly. Treatment for a herniated lumbar disk varies depending on the severity of the injury. Conservative methods such as pain medications, and chiropractic manipulations or physical therapy may help over time, but when these fail to provide results many patients have to go through a lumbar fusion.
There are two types of lumbar fusions, which differ depending on the location of the incision. A posterior lumbar fusion occurs when the surgeon goes through the back, while an anterior lumbar fusion is when the surgeon goes through the front. The intervertebral disk causing problems is removed and replaced with a bone fragment which can either be taken from the patient’s hip or through the bone bank. This bone fragment is used to make sure the vertebra are separated properly. The surgeon then screws a metal plate to the vertebrae to ensure the bone fragment stays in place. The surgery fuses the vertebrae bones together, reducing pain in many patients. Full recovery from the surgery takes between 6-8 months.