What causes a herniated disc is a question worker’s compensation clients have when facing surgery or light duty work restrictions.  Intervertebral discs are jelly doughnut-like shock absorbers between the vertebrae bones that form our spinal column.  A bulging disc occurs when the nucleus pulposus (jelly) in the center of the disc pushes out of its normal space and into the annulus fibrosus (dough). The nucleus presses against the annulus causing the disc to bulge outward. Sometimes the nucleus pushes completely through the annulus and squeezes out of the disc, a herniation.

Our daily activities cause the nucleus to press against the annulus in varying degrees as it does its job cushioning our backbone from its regular ups and downs when walking, jumping, sitting and lying. However, as the annulus ages, it tends to crack and tear.  This process is known as degeneration, and it happens to all us as we age.  Insurance company doctors, IME doctors, use it as an excuse to deny claims.  Genes have to do with it, but the degenerative process is accelerated by excess wear and tear from job duties over time.

Vigorous, repetitive bending, twisting, and lifting, such as in construction jobs, can place abnormal pressure on the shock-absorbing nucleus of the disc. If great enough, this increased pressure can injure the annulus, leading to herniation.  Our job at McCormick Law Office is to gather facts and expert doctor opinions to determine if a worker’s job duties over time caused or contributed to a disc herniation and worker’s compensation benefits.

A lumbar disc can also become herniated during an acute (sudden) injury, like a lifting incident at work or an automobile accident, which act as the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Lifting while bent forward and twisted can cause a disc herniation. A disc can also herniate from a heavy impact on the spine, such as falling from a ladder.

Disc herniation causes pain from a variety of sources. It can cause mechanical pain. This is pain that comes from the parts of the spine that move during activity, such as the discs and ligaments. Pain from inflammation occurs when the nucleus squeezes through tears in the annulus and comes into contact with the body’s blood supply, causing a reaction of the chemicals inside the nucleus producing inflammation and pain. A disc herniation may also put pressure against a spinal nerve root, producing pain that radiates along the nerve. This is called neurogenic pain or sciatica.  This nerve root pain is often instantaneous in an acute herniation, with immediate pain shooting down a leg (lumbar herniated disc) or an arm (cervical herniated disc) often preceded by an audible pop or snapping sound.