What is radiculopathy after a car accident?

Radiculopathy is a medical term that describes symptoms caused by pressure on the nerve root. (1) It is not that uncommon, and it can be caused by a car accident.

If you have been involved in an auto accident that has caused radiculopathy, a personal injury attorney can help you understand the accident law that applies to your case. They will help you process your claims and document your injuries, whether the symptoms appear immediately, days, or even weeks later.

In order to understand radiculopathy and why it occurs, it is important to understand the basics of spinal nerves. The human spine is formed from bones named vertebrae (33 in total). Two vertebrae are separated by small disc-like structures (intervertebral disc), which are softer than bone. Each Intervertebral disc has a strong outer shell and a gelatinous softer core. It acts as a cushion between two bones. The spinal cord exits the skull into the spine, which extends from the base of the skull down to the lower back. On its way, the spinal cord branches off into nerve roots. Each spinal nerve is formed pf two nerve roots. One of them contains fibers that transmit signals from the brain to the muscles to help them contract and move. These are named motor fibers. The other root contains fibers that send sensations from the periphery back to the brain centers. Because of this, each spinal nerve is a mixed nerve. Two nerve roots entwine inside the spine to create a spinal nerve. These nerves, which extend from the spine through small openings between two vertebrae and the intervertebral disc, are called foramina. (2) When there is a narrowing of this already delicate space, however, it can cause symptoms known as radiculopathy.

Any condition that causes the space between two vertebrae to compress can cause radiculopathy. The most frequent cause of radiculopathy is herniated disc. As mentioned before, the intervertebral disc is a disc-like structure located between two vertebrae. As we age, the disc ages as well. The amount of water inside it decreases, and it loses its elasticity. A herniated disc occurs when the outer shell cracks, causing the inner soft nucleus to “leak.” If the disc cracks near the opening where the spinal nerve leaves the spine, this herniated disc can compress the nerve, causing symptoms. A herniated disc can happen while making a certain movement or lifting something heavy. It can occur because of a car accident. (3) During car accidents, the human body and head move back and forth, causing the spinal nerves, spinal cord, and muscles to stretch under the excessive pressure. This jarring movement can cause ruptures in the discs and radiculopathy. Other causes of radiculopathy symptoms after an accident are disc bulges, disc protrusion, overstretching of nerve root or nerve, and contusion of the spinal cord.

Most patients complain of neck pain, thoracic pain, or lower back pain after a spine injury due to an auto accident. These symptoms can greatly affect your quality of life. Both timely contact with medical professionals and an auto accidents lawyer with a background in personal injury law can reduce your physical and financial burden.

Other common symptoms include muscle spasms. When the nerve root is injured, the patient will often complain of pain radiation usually accompanied by numbness and tingling in certain body parts. If the neck was injured in a car accident, the patient will usually complain of pain radiating to the back of the head, between the shoulder blades, shoulders, arms, elbows, forearms, and down to the fingers. Less frequently, they will complain of pain radiating down the spine. This radiculopathy can occur on only one side of the body if only one spinal nerve root was injured. But it can also be bilateral. Since every spinal nerve has a determined function and it provides sensitivity to certain body parts, knowing this can help predict which nerve and nerve root was injured in a car accident. For example, if the patient reports neck pain with pain radiating down to the fingertips and numbness and/or tingling fingers, the examiner can expect that the injury has affected the ulnar nerve roots. (4)

Legs receive signals from the brain through the lumbar and sacral spine and their spinal nerves. These nerves exit the spine the same way they do in the neck, through small openings between vertebrae. If there is compression on the spinal nerve or its root, it will cause radiculopathy. The patient will complain of pain going down to the buttocks, hips, legs, and feet to the toes. It can also cause numbness and/or tingling in the same areas. On examination, it is important to detect the location of the symptoms. This can help determine which nerve root or spinal nerve was injured. (5)

The anterior and medial side of the thigh is innervated by the L1, L2, and L3 nerve roots. The anterior side of the thigh, knee, lower leg, and one-half of the big toe is innervated by the L4 nerve root. The L5 nerve root is responsible for the innervation of the outer part of the thigh, lower leg, sole of the foot, one half of the big toe, and 2nd to 4th toe. S1 and S2 nerve roots innervate the backside of the thigh, knee, lower leg, and lesser toe.

In order to diagnose radiculopathy, your doctor will take a detailed history and conduct an examination. The examination can reveal the presence of weakened muscles or muscle groups, decreased sensation in certain body areas, etc. Radiology procedures can detect the source of radiculopathy. X-rays can detect spine fractures or degenerative changes in the bones and joints. However, they can’t really show discs and soft tissues such as nerves. CT scans, and especially MRIs, are a lot more sensitive diagnostic methods. They can show the inside of the spine and disc and reveal the herniated disc. Electromyography (EMG) is another diagnostic tool that detects the speed of signals spreading through the nerves. In the case of radiculopathy, it will detect changes. (6)

Once the cause of radiculopathy has been revealed, treatment options should be chosen. There are two major groups of treatment options. The first group pertains to non-surgical methods and includes rest, NSAIDs, physical therapy treatment, acupuncture, chiropractic treatment, and epidural injections that will reduce swelling of the spinal nerve root. (6)

Surgical treatment is reserved for patients that have been diagnosed with radiculopathy after a car aciddent caused by a herniated disc not relieved by non-surgical treatment. There are a lot of different surgeries which can be done to help patients with radiculopathy. The goal of surgery is to remove the source of compression on a spinal nerve. During the surgery, the surgeon will try to remove the part of the disc or bone that creates pressure. (6)

A licensed attorney for personal injuries practicing in Virginia will be experienced in car accident cases and can help you get the medical treatment you need quickly.

In conclusion, radiculopathy after a car accident is not unusual, and it is a condition that requires medical attention because it can be caused by a major spinal disorder.

It can be complicated to navigate the legal and medical systems on your own — but you don’t have to.

A Virginia personal injury attorney can guide you through the process of getting the compensation you deserve after a traumatic car accident.

  1. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22564-radiculopathy
  2. https://www.kenhub.com/en/library/anatomy/spinal-nerves
  3. https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Herniated-Disc#:~:text=A%20herniated%20disc%20(also%20called,an%20early%20stage%20of%20degeneration.
  4. https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/neck-pain/cervical-radiculopathy-symptoms
  5. https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/lower-back-pain/lumbar-radiculopathy
  6. https://www.neurosurgery.columbia.edu/patient-care/conditions/radiculopathy