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How Does a Disc in Your Neck Get Injured in a Car Accident? | Guy S. DiMartino DC, JD, PA

Guy DiMartino June 6, 2013

Florida trial lawyer and chiropractic physician explains how a disc in your neck gets injured in a car accident.

In order to understand how the cervical disc can be injured its important to understand some of the basic anatomy of the disc. The disc has two main components (1) the annulus fibrosus; and (2) the nucleus pulposus. The annulus is made up of a bunch of fibrocartilagenous rings and the nucleus is made up of a gel like substance with loose fibers. The tough annulus keeps the nucleus in check and helps to evenly distribute the nucleus across the disc.

The discs act as shock absorbers in the spine. The disc is pretty resilient to axial (up and down) pressure but it is susceptible to injury with torsional forces.

Mechanism of Injury

Say youre stopped in your car, talking to your passenger with your head turned slightly to the right, and your hit in the rear-end. Your head will be forced backward and forward. These forces can tear the annulus allowing the nucleus to seep out and chemically irritate or put pressure on certain nerves.

Pain generators in a Disc Injury

Generally speaking there are two general areas of pain generators. First, the outside of the annulus is innervated by a nerve called the sinuvertebral or recurrent meningeal nerve. When the nucleus leaks out into the annulus it can irritate these nerves. The nerve irritation will manifest as back pain or it can refer pain neck, upper back or shoulder area.

Second, the disc material (nucleus) can leak out far enough where it goes past the border of the disc. This is called a herniation, protrusion or extrusion depending on the nature and extent of the leaking or pouching. When the disc herniates in can put pressure on the spinal cord or nerves coming out of the neck that innervate the arms. Again, these folks can experience neck pain, upper back pain, or pain that radiates into the arm(s).

Diagnosis of a Disc Injury

Cervical MRI

Typically, disc injuries are diagnosed by physical exam and Magnetic Resonance Imaging. MRI does a really nice job of visualizing the spinal cord, discs and nerves that supply the arms.

The key to handling these cases correct for people injured in automobile and other types of accidents is quick diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

If you have any questions about a disc injury after an accident, you can always call me directly at 352-267-9168 or fill out the internet consultation form on the right.