Spinal discs are round cushions that lie in between the vertebrae of the spinal column. These discs basically act like shock absorbers between the vertebrae, cushioning them when we contort our bodies in everyday life. These discs have an external shell and a liquid substance in the middle. The liquid substance is gel like. If a disc is injured as the result of the trauma of an auto accident, the “gel” may leak out of the disc. If the inner core of the disc extrudes back into the spinal canal it may impact a nerve root. A herniated disc can put great pressure on the nerve, which can cause pain to radiate throughout the person’s body. A herniated disc that does not impact the nerve root can also cause significant physical pain. Where the pain radiates to in the body depends on where the disc herniation occurs. This radicular pain is typically described as a pain that shoots through the body. If a disc is herniated in the lumbar spine and it is impacting the nerve root the pain may radiate down one or both legs. If a disc is herniated in the cervical spine and it is impacting the nerve root, pain may radiate into one or more of the arms.
A herniated disc is rarely diagnosed in the emergency room after an auto accident. This is because the disc is invisible on an x-ray. A patient needs a CT scan or MRI test for the doctor to diagnosis a disc herniation.