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Your guide to spinal injuries

Diagram showing lower back pain

“A delay in referring a spinal injury case is known to lead to complications and longer hospital stays, which may be partially due to inappropriate methods of assessment.” 

- The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)

With some types of spinal injuries and the use of advanced treatment technologies it may sometimes be possible for the damage caused to the spine to be of short duration and a full recovery can be made by the patient.

An injury caused to the bones of the spine may well be able to heal, however, any damage to the spinal cord itself is still considered almost always irreversible. When the spine has been seriously damaged or the spinal cord is severed, there are major implications for a patient’s future with immobility or severe movement impairment.

Symptoms missed, misdiagnosed or mistreated

However, much can depend on the accuracy of diagnosis and the subsequent promptness of treatment and care by doctors, specialists and other practitioners.  If a patient doesn’t receive the proper care that they need they may suffer injury as a result of clinical negligence.

The traumatic and life-changing consequences of a permanent spinal injury can have a devastating impact upon the whole family. Especially, if damage was avoidable and if sufficient care had not been taken. Cases involving complications arising from spinal injuries can sometimes also be complex.

Now hospital Trusts owe a  legal ‘Duty of Candour’ to the patient.  They must both inform and apologise  if mistakes. However, this is a new duty and it  may not always be straightforward to obtain a proper explanation as to what happened and  who is  responsible.

Specialist knowledge

If you believe that you or a family member have not received proper treatment  it is  important that you instruct  a legal expert, who also has specialist knowledge of the key medical issues together with a sympathetic and sensitive understanding of how everyone involved is affected.

Your Legal Friend has specialist lawyers who have  successfully resolvedmany different types of clinical negligence case. We can help you find out whether  you or a member of your family were not given the proper care that you required  and crucially, if the otcome is worse as a result, obtain  compensation to ensure the future financial needs of providing the necessary special care, support, treatment and equipment will be properly met.

Spinal injury figures in the UK

  • Around 500–600 people suffer from acute traumatic injuries to the spinal cord each year in the UK.
  • Five times as many people - around 2, 750 - are estimated will suffer a spinal fracture or dislocation alone.
  • Just 7 per cent of spinal injury cases are referred within 24 hours.
  • 59 per cent of spinal injury cases are admitted to hospital within 30 days. 

- (Spinal Injury Assessment Guide - NICE 2013/15)

  • 40,000 people in the UK are estimated living with a spinal cord injury.
  • Every eight hours, an injury to the spinal cord occurs in the UK.

- (BackUp Trust)

Problems caused by spinal injuries

When the structure of the spine, the bones, spinal discs, nerves and/or cord have been damage a full or partial recovery may be possible. However, an injury to the spinal cord is usually very serious with paralysis and severe immobility as a lifelong outcome. 

Spinal injuries can cause:

  • Restricted mobility.
  • Constant pain.
  • Weakness in the limbs.
  • Altered or loss of sensation.
  • Involuntary muscle spasms.

Spinal cord injuries can cause:

  • Paralysis.
  • Phantom pain in the paralysed limbs.
  • Low blood pressure.
  • Sudden high blood pressure.
  • Problems controlling body temperature.
  • Loss of the control of the bladder and or bowel.

Spinal injuries caused by clinical negligence

  • Missed or delayed diagnosis

The duty of care you are owed as a patient means that every doctor, specialist or  nurse  must “exercise the skill appropriate to their experience and training and perform their clinical responsibilities in line with their peers.” To prove a clinical negligence claim we then have to go on to show that you are worse now as a result of the doctor, specialist or nurses’ failing.

When care in the diagnosis and treatment of a spinal injury falls below an acceptable standard the injuries can affect motor, brain and nerve function.

A spinal injury could still be ‘unstable’ with the possibility of further complications developing but a doctor may have mistakenly diagnosed the injury as already having “stabilised.”

  • Negligent or substandard surgery

Direct injuries can be caused to the spine or spinal cord during surgery because of a failure to carry out correct procedures, the use of the incorrect equipment or even during tests involving a lumber puncture when a needle is inserted to obtain a sample of spinal fluid.

A spinal injury may not only become worse and the prospects of recovery diminished, a patient may suffer permanent, life changing disability.

  • Lack of care

Spinal injuries may not be managed appropriately and further serious injury caused at a hospital or nursing home.

  • Poor care during your labour

An improperly administered epidural can result in spinal damage to the mother.

Typical conditions, which also affect the spine include:

  • Herniated Disc ( known as a “slipped disc”)
  • Lumbar Disc Disease
  • Degenerative Disc Disease
  • Spinal Fusion
  • Spinal Stenosis (restriction or narrowing of the spinal canal)
  • Spinal Abscess
  • Spinal Cyst
  • Spinal Haemorrhage
  • Spinal Decompression
  • Spinal Tumour

Cauda Equina Syndrome

A relatively rare but serious condition, which causes extreme pressure and swelling of the nerves at the end of the spinal cord, at the point where they separate and extend down the back of each leg.

Causes:

  • Any injury that penetrates the lower back or trauma to the lumbar spine, such as a car accident, fall, or surgery.
  • Any spinal condition which may compress the nerves in the lower back, but most commonly, caused by a “slipped disc.”

Symptoms:

  • Altered sensation, severe or progressive weakness or numbness in the legs and/or feet, possibly making it difficult to walk.
  • Loss of sensation or a strange sensation in the inner thighs/between the legs, buttocks, back of legs.
  • Lower back pain.
  • Sharp stabbing pain in the leg.
  • Incontinence.

Treatment:

Surgery is recommended to decompress the nerves within 8 hours of onset of symptoms to reduce or eliminate pressure on the nerve and give the maximum potential for improvement of sensory and motor functions.

If the opportunity to treat a patient who has symptoms of cauda equina before they become complete is missed, the condition cannot be reversed and the patient may have a claim for compensation.

Making a claim - how Your Legal Friend can help you...

No one can truly measure the emotional devastation caused to a patient and their family trying to come to terms with why the system seems to have failed them at a time of most need.

No amount of compensation for clinical negligence will be able to reverse the suffering and stress caused when something goes wrong during an operation or an injury is not properly diagnosed or treated. However with the proper compensation people can regain their independence through adaptations to their home, help to do things they previously would have done for themselves.

It can take time to decide to seek legal advice.

As experienced clinical negligence specialists, we know that families need to find answers and the people responsible are held to account. We can help you find out “why the system has failed you and what went wrong.”

From the first time we discuss the particular  circumstances of your case, Your Legal Friend is committed to ensuring we obtain the maximum compensation for our clients.