Can a Car Accident Cause a L5 Disc Herniation?

  • By:David Bate

Car accident chiropractor

As a car accident chiropractor in Cincinnati, we see hundreds of low back injuries a year. Many times, the low back pain is caused by something traumatic, like a car crash or work injury. If the low back pain develops into numbness, weakness or shooting pain in the legs, the patient will require more advanced imaging of their injury, like an MRI.

By far, the most common finding upon ordering an MRI of the lumbar spine after a car crash is a herniated disc at L5. One of the most common questions I get from patients is, “Can a L5 disc herniation be caused by a car accident?” The honest answer is…. Yes, but it depends.

Low back pain and disc herniations are quite complicated and nuanced. Diet, exercise, posture, stress, degeneration, arthritis, prior injuries, genetics, athletics, and movement patterns all contribute to the health of your low back. Not all cases of low back pain are caused by the same underlying factors. Therefore, not all patients with low back pain and disc herniations will respond to the same treatment.

While most L5 disc herniations are symptomatic after a car crash, there is some research suggesting up to 40% of the population is walking around with an asymptomatic L5 disc herniation. Many defense attorneys will reference this statistic when arguing against an injured party in a personal injury lawsuit. However, without an MRI immediately before and after a car crash, it is impossible to definitively attribute an L5 disc herniation to a car accident. This is clearly not practical as we do not recommend advanced imaging for patients that are not experiencing symptoms.

In a patient with no pre-existing symptoms of low back pain, with a significant car accident, a previously asymptomatic herniated disc can easily become symptomatic. The car accident or work injury is often the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Does that mean the disc was in perfect shape before the car accident? Typically, no. But if there were no symptoms before and there are immediately after the crash, then most honest physicians would concede that the crash caused the symptoms and at least contributed to the underlying disc herniation.

Any subsequent chiropractic, therapy, or medical treatment would also be attributable to the car accident. If injections or surgery is recommended, then the accident also caused the injections or surgery.

Fortunately, most L5 disc herniations caused by a car crash can be treated successfully without surgical intervention. Workplace modifications and ongoing professional care may be required to maintain an active lifestyle, but we see people overcome these painful injuries every day in our practice.

Car accident cases involving disc herniations and disc degeneration findings usually go into litigation. If the doctors are honest, they will concede the obvious in a case with no pre-existing symptoms. If you have further questions, do contact our car accident chiropractors.

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