Picture your spinal column as a stack of cylinders with holes in them, like a tower of donuts or spools. Imagine all the holes are aligned. In your body, those donuts or spools would be the vertebrae—the bones of your back—and the spinal cord would run from the base of the brain through those holes for about 18 inches. At each gap between the vertebrae, nerves would extend to the farthest points of the your body, sending out commands to muscles and transmitting sensory information to the brain.
It’s an elegant system that can become horribly painful when it malfunctions.
One of the ways it can malfunction is spinal stenosis—a narrowing of the gaps where nerve fibers pass. Stenosis can be a part of the aging process, but it can also occur early in life as a consequence of trauma, such as a New Hanover County motor vehicle accident.
The diagnosis of spinal stenosis
There are two types of spinal stenosis, distinguished by the location of the damage:
- Lumbar spinal stenosis affects the lower back. Commonly, there is narrowing of the passageways for the spinal nerve roots that extend from the back to other parts of the body. When those nerves are compressed, the patient experiences tingling, weakness, numbness, or pain in the area where those nerves connect. Sciatica is the specific name given when this form of stenosis extends from the lower back into the legs, thighs, or buttocks.
- Cervical spinal stenosis occurs when compression occurs in the neck. This is often a more serious condition, because the narrowing typically involves the central spinal cord channel. Compressing the spinal cord may not only cause pain, but it can also cause symptoms of weakness or numbness across the body. In extreme cases, paralysis may occur.
Of course, after any traffic accident the patient should have a thorough examination by a physician. If the symptoms of stenosis are present, the doctor will want to perform other tests to rule out other possible causes, such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, or brain tumors. Imaging tests such as MRI or CT scans will be used to confirm that stenosis is present.
Getting the treatment you need
If you have been diagnosed with spinal stenosis after a North Carolina car accident, you should be aware that the level of treatment will vary according to the severity of your condition. For the mildest cases, patients receive painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs. Exercises and physical therapy will be used to improve the condition over time, and your doctor may also recommend complementary therapies such as massage, acupuncture, or chiropractic adjustments.
More difficult cases will be treated with steroid injections or surgery to repair the damage. Surgery almost always requires fusing some vertebrae together to maintain stability—which means that some of your mobility will be permanently lost. Fusion surgery can help to relieve pain, but often it is not a complete cure.
Treating even the simplest cases of spinal stenosis can easily cost thousands of dollars; even the tests to confirm a diagnosis can be frightfully expensive. Also, of course, stenosis often involves pain so disabling as to prevent you from earning a living. Unless you are extremely wealthy, dealing with spinal stenosis is likely to cause a financial crisis in your household budget.
That’s why so many North Carolina accident victims turn to the Wilmington personal injury attorneys at Speaks Law Firm to seek financial compensation from the person legally liable for their injuries. Our experienced traffic accident lawyers understand complicated medical cases, and they work unstintingly to collect the largest settlement or damage award available for our clients. If you want to learn how Speaks Law Firm can help you after your New Hanover County accident, call us toll-free at 877-593-4233 to schedule a free consultation, or ask how you can get a FREE copy of our client handbook, The North Carolina Auto Injury Book.