Rear-End Auto Crashes: Spinal Trauma and Pre-Existing Degenerative Disc Disease (“DDD”)

In a rear-end auto crash, the impact often results in injury to the cervical or lumbar spine. As we each grow older, the impact can cause much more immediate signs and symptoms of a spinal injury, because as we age a normal underlying condition known as Degenerative Disc Disease (“DDD”) can act as a set-up for a spinal injury.

DDD is a natural result of aging: we all have it to greater or lesser extent. But as our spines age normally the majority of us do not experience any pain or limitation from DDD. We remain asymptomatic. Although insurance companies and their defense lawyers know this is a normal phenomenon, they will likely mount a rigorous “Triple-D” defense as the cause of a rear-end accident victim’s pain and disability. That is, defense lawyers will blame normal aging of the spine as the cause of your injuries.

Some personal injury firms might take the bait and make a quick settlement based on the Triple-D defense, but the attorneys at Grazian & Volpe have encountered this misleading defense many times before, and know it can be overcome to get you the full settlement you deserve.

The attorneys at the law firm of Grazian & Volpe have handled hundreds of auto crash cases and understand the medicine related to Degenerative Disc Disease. In this Blog, which is part of a series on spinal injuries caused by auto accidents, we shall explain what DDD is, how it is diagnosed, and what is done to treat a it.

Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD)


Degenerative Disc Disease is a natural consequence of aging. Everyone experiences DDD to a greater or lesser degree during their life. As the discs between the vertebrae in the spine age and become dehydrated and “flattened,” DDD occurs.

The human spine is made up of a column of vertebrae with jelly-like, fluid-filled discs in between them. hese discs act as the shock absorbers during everyday activities and facilitate flexibility. Our spinal discs are made up of two parts: the outer, fibrous part known as the annulus or annular ring; and the inner part, which is a jelly-like nucleus that absorbs shocks to the spine.

When we’re born, these discs are comprised of 80% water. However, as we age, the water content naturally decreases and the discs generally deteriorate with the passing years of wear and tear. The areas of the spine most susceptible to disc degeneration are the cervical spine (neck) and the lumbar spine (lower back) because these areas undergo the most motion and stress from everyday living.

What the degeneration of these discs means is that your body goes from having Krispy Kreme donut-like cushions between your vertebrae to cushions more like Swedish pancakes, with little shock absorption and suppleness.

But the most important thing to remember is that this doesn’t mean you automatically “feel” it as your spine ages. You can live into your 80s without experiencing any pain related to the degeneration of your discs, because DDD is usually asymptomatic. That is, until a rear-end auto collision occurs.

This is all to state the obvious: a 30-year-old body and a 60-year-old body will respond to the trauma of a rear-end collision differently. The 30-year-old might get up and skip away, while the 60-year-old can barely turn his neck. While the insurance lawyers launch into their “Triple-D” defense, arguing that your neck pain is just the result of a pre-existing DDD, the truth is that a car accident can activate or trigger DDD symptoms that would likely never have developed in the absence of the trauma.

Diagnosis of DDD

Importantly, the trauma of the auto accident is the likely the cause of neck or back pain and disability, and not the pre-existing DDD in your spine which was asymptomatic before the trauma from the auto crash occurred. Therefore, the only certain way to learn of the condition of your discs is to be diagnosed by a medical professional.

A medical professional will take your medical history and perform a physical examination, checking for abnormalities, reflexes, and range of motion. But to diagnose DDD in the spine, a physician should order an MRI scan of the spinal area involved.

Long Term Treatment of DDD

In patients who have silent, underlying DDD, but then suffer spinal trauma in an auto accident causing pain, many long treatments are available. Long-term treatments in trauma patients who also have DDD target reducing the related neck or back pain through pain management, physical therapy, and lifestyle modification. Pain management might include heat or ice treatments and pain medications. Physical therapy might include stretching to improve flexibility, strengthening exercises to improve stability, and/or aerobic exercises to maintain healthy circulation. Some lifestyle modification might include avoiding nicotine and excess alcohol, using ergonomic furniture, and incorporating more movement into your daily routine.

The good news about car accident trauma patients who also have DDD is that, while the discs naturally degenerate, the pain triggered or exacerbated by spinal degeneration will actually feel better with time and proper treatment.

If you suffer from neck or low back pain due to someone’s negligence, getting an accurate diagnosis of your injuries is crucial. It is important to be informed and to utilize qualified medical professionals and experienced personal injury lawyers to help you fully recover. Call attorney Kurt D. Lloyd of Grazian & Volpe today at 773.838.8100, or fill out our online form for a free consultation.

The above article was written by Kurt D. Lloyd of Grazian & Volpe. Kurt Lloyd has been practicing personal injury law in the Chicagoland area for over 30 years and has helped his clients win more than $355 million in jury verdicts and settlements from insurance companies and corporations. Kurt helps his injured clients regain their lives after injury. The information provided comes from his extensive legal and medical research and years of experience trying injury cases in courtrooms throughout Illinois.

Grazian & Volpe, Part of the Lloyd Miller Law Group