MRIs are a very common diagnostic tool, but what do the results actually mean?  Medical terminology can be confusing and radiologists may use different words to mean the same thing.  Here are some basic definitions that may help you understand what’s really going on with your back.

These are some of the common diagnoses you might see on an MRI.  

Degenerative disc disease is not caused by an accident or injury to the spine.  You may also hear this referred to as spondylosis or arthritis. It is a condition that takes years to develop and is due to the natural aging process.  Because it happens slowly over time, you may not know you have it and you may not have had any symptoms before your injury.  However, an injury can aggravate this condition and can make the recovery process more difficult.  In NJ workers’ compensation, if this aggravation has a permanent impact on your home or work life, you may be entitled to a monetary award. This link shows the difference between a normal spine and one with degenerative changes.

Spinal stenosis is also a condition that is not caused by an accident or injury.  It is a term used to describe a small space between the vertebra for the nerves to travel up and down the spine.  Some people are just born this way.  However, if you suffer a spinal injury, people with a small spinal canal are at a disadvantage.  After an injury the body will work to heal itself and this causes swelling.  When you have a small space, there is not as much room for the swelling and this can cause pain when the swelling is too close to the nerves.  This means that two people with the same injury, one with a narrow spinal canal and one with a normal spinal canal, can have very different outcomes.  This image will help you better understand what stenosis looks like. Stenosis is not a condition that you can be compensated for in New Jersey workers’ compensation, however, you may still be entitled to a monetary award of the injury to the spine has a permanent impact on your life.   

Probably the most confusing back diagnosis is the difference between a bulging disc and a herniated disc.  

A bulging disc is a common occurrence and can be caused by an injury to the spine.  A bulging disc may also be called a protrusion or slipped disc. A bulging disc stays contained within the disc itself. The ligament is not perforated.

A herniated disc is less common than a bulging disc, but is more likely to cause pain. It may also be called a ruptured disc.  Here, the disc membrane is ruptured and the disc material is invading the spinal canal, probably touching the nerves and causing the pain. This image may help you understand the difference between a herniated disc and a bulging disc. Bulging and herniated discs are often caused by an accident or injury, especially if your job is physical and requires heavy lifting.  A very common cause of either of these conditions is lifting and twisting simultaneously.  These conditions can be treated, but often times, an injured workers has symptoms that may limit their activities at home or work.  In that case, he/she would be entitled to a monetary award.  

If your work related back injury has a permanent impact on your life, please call us for a complimentary consultation.

Vicki Beyer is a Shareholder in Stark & Stark’s Lawrenceville, New Jersey office, specializing in Workers’ Compensation Law. For more information, please contact Ms. Beyer.