The lumbar vertebrae include five large, heavy vertebrae in the lower back. They are between the bottom of the rib cage and the pelvis and are commonly known as L1 through L5. Their large size and weight help to support the weight of the body, as well as the stress of lifting and carrying.
Injuries to the upper portion of the lumbar spine can cause paralysis in the lower body, leaving the victim a paraplegic. Injuries to lower lumbar vertebrae can damage nerves causing issues with sensation and motor function but not necessarily complete paralysis.
Understanding the Role of the Lumbar Spine
The lumbar vertebrae connect to the thoracic vertebrae at the top and the sacral spine at the bottom. Since they bear most of a person’s body weight and need to support both the weight of the person and anything they carry, these vertebrae are larger and heavier than any other vertebrae.
Because of the weight they must support, L4 through the first sacral vertebrae are most likely to suffer injuries from age and overuse. Many people suffer chronic pain and nerve damage because of problems with L4-L5 and L5-S1. Sciatica is just one example.
Lumbar Spine Issues and Spinal Cord Injuries
The spinal cord ends around L2. For this reason, it is relatively rare for a lower back injury to result in spinal cord damage. Instead, injury to L3 and below may cause motor and sensory loss to the legs because of damage to the nerves that run through this area.
Like spinal cord damage, damage to these nerves may be complete or incomplete and could affect the front of the leg or the back of the leg, or only the right leg or left leg.
Common Causes of Lumbar Vertebrae Injuries
While degeneration, osteoporosis, and congenital disabilities can all cause issues with the lumbar spine, most devastating injuries that impact the spinal cord or cause significant damage to multiple nerves occur because of some type of trauma.
This may include:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Violent acts, often involving shootings or stabbings
- Falls, especially from an elevated height
- Sports injuries, although this is more likely to injure other parts of the spine
Because of the size and weight of these vertebrae, they may be less likely than other parts of the spine to fracture during an accident or incident. However, it is possible to break your back in this area. While an injury to the neck or upper back is much more serious and may be life-threatening, serious injuries to the lower back can impact your quality of life as well.
If you fracture a lumbar vertebra, you will need emergency medical care and rehabilitation to recover as much mobility and independence as possible. Most people with this type of injury can learn to take care of themselves and work around their new impairments. However, this is a long and arduous process for many.
Lasting Effects of Injuries to the Lumbar Vertebrae
Injuries to the lumbar vertebrae can affect the spinal cord (L1-L2), the lumbar nerves (L1-L5), and the nerves that run through L3-S1. Damaging any of these parts of the nervous system could result in the loss of some or all functions in the pelvis, legs, and feet. Despite injuries leaving them paraplegic, many people recover their independence through rehabilitation and therapy.
Many people who suffer this type of injury also lose all control of their bowel and bladder but can learn self-care tactics to manage this.
Mobility can vary greatly from person to person depending on the nerves affected. If their legs remain strong, they may be able to walk with braces and a cane or crutch. Some use a manual wheelchair at least part-time. Others opt for a powered wheelchair for ease of mobility.
Treatment and Rehabilitation Following a Lumbar Vertebrae Injury
Treatments used for lumbar vertebrae injuries depend on the nature and severity of the injury, as well as the location. They may include:
Doctors often want to start patients with spinal cord or nerve injuries on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) as soon as possible after an injury. Swelling in the area can compress the spinal cord and nerves causing secondary damage. By reducing the swelling, these drugs may be able to reduce the risk of further impairment.
There are several types of surgery that might be necessary depending on your injuries and their location. Surgically decompressing the nerves and stabilizing the spine using rods, plates, screws, and other tools may be necessary in some cases.
Rehabilitation and Therapy
When there are significant injuries, the doctor may recommend inpatient rehabilitation in a facility focused on spinal cord and spinal nerve damage. Even if inpatient rehabilitation is not necessary, you will likely need both physical and occupational therapy.
Physical therapy can help you rebuild strength and regain the skills you lost. You may be able to learn to walk with braces or use a wheelchair effectively. You can also learn skills like transferring from your chair to bed.
Occupational therapy will allow you to learn to provide self-care despite your new impairments. You may learn how to manage toileting, hygiene, and other necessary daily tasks so you can live independently.
Even when patients suffer a severe lumbar spinal cord injury, most can live independently and provide all necessary self-care. Many learn to drive using hand controls and can live long, productive lives despite their injuries.
Pursuing Compensation After a Lumbar Vertebrae Injury
If you suffered lumbar vertebrae injuries in a car accident, premises liability incident, or other negligence accident, you might be eligible to hold the liable party accountable for your damages. You could pursue compensation to cover your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.
With more than 20 years of experience helping personal injury victims, the team from Pintas & Mullins knows what it takes to get a payout. Let us review your case for free. Call us today at 1-866-611-BASC to talk to a member of our team about your accident.