Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Causes of Herniated Discs

Disc herniations in the neck and back are some of the most common work-related injuries we see in our Minnesota workers' compensation practice.

A disc herniation is when the intervertebral disc, or the cushion in between the vertebrae in your spine, pushes or bulges out, or even ruptures. A bulging or ruptured disc can cause significant pain, or even spinal cord or nerve compression. Herniated discs in the neck and back are usually caused by 1) wear and tear, 2) injury, or 3) a combination of wear and tear and injury.

Herniated Discs Caused by Wear and Tear on the Spine 

A herniated disc is often the result of daily wear and tear on the spine. This is also known as disc degeneration. The spine carries and helps distribute our weight, and the intervertebral discs act as shock absorbers for movements such as walking, twisting, and bending. Discs can wear out over the course of time. The tough outer layer of the disc, or the annulus fibrous, can start to weaken over time, allowing the jelly-like inner layer of the disc, known as the nucleus pulposus, to push through, creating a bulging or herniated disc.

Herniated Discs From Injury 

Injury to the spine can also cause a herniated disc. For example, a car accident or fall at work can cause a herniated disc when the sudden jerking motion or force puts too much pressure on the disc, causing it to herniate. You can also herniate a disc by lifting a heavy object incorrectly, or by extreme twisting.

Herniated Discs From a Combination of Wear and Tear and Injury 

An intervertebral disc that has been weakened by wear and tear, or degeneration, can make it more susceptible to herniation, should you experience a traumatic event. If a disc is already weakened by degeneration, even minor traumas, such as bending awkwardly, or even sneezing, can cause a disc to herniate.

Different doctors sometimes use the term “disc herniation” to mean slightly different things, but they are often categorized as four types:
  1. Disc degeneration. During the first stage of a herniation, the nucleus pulposus weakens due to changes in the disc associated with wear and tear. 
  2. Prolapse.  During the second stage, the form or position of the disc changes. A slight bulge or protrusion may begin to form, which may impinge the spinal cord or nerve roots. 
  3. Extrusion. During the third stage, the nucleus pulposus breaks through the annulus fibrosis, but still remains within the disc. 
  4. Sequestration. During the final stage, the nucleus pulposus may break through the annulus fibrosus and move outside the disc into the spinal canal. 
In Minnesota, if you’ve sustained a herniated disc as a result of your work activities, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, including medical expense benefits, wage loss benefits, permanent partial disability benefits, and rehabilitation benefits.

Whether you have a herniated disc that was caused by an injury, one that was caused by wear and tear, or one that was caused by a combination of both, your injury may be covered by workers’ compensation so long as your work activities were a substantial contributing factor in the development of your disc herniation.

For a free, no-obligation workers’ compensation consultation to learn more about your rights under Minnesota workers’ compensation law, contact Meuser & Associate at 877-746-5680, or click here to send us an email to schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys. 


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