Though a herniated disk is usually a degenerative process, it can also happen due to acute trauma from a car accident. The force of impact can cause damage to the outer layer of the disk, and the inner layer may then leak out. This can put pressure on the spinal cord and/or peripheral nerve roots.
Pressure on the nerve tissues may cause complications affecting various areas of the body. The specific complications may be different depending on the level of the spine where the disk herniation occurs.
Cervical disk herniation
Cervical disks occur between the bones of the neck. According to Emory Health Care, herniation at this level can cause complications of the upper extremities. Patients may experience weakness, numbness, tingling and pain in the hands, arms or shoulders.
If the cervical disk herniation puts pressure on the spinal cord itself, complications can be more severe and affect the lower extremities as well. Patients may experience an electric shock sensation in the arms or legs, walk with a gait that is stumbling or awkward or experience difficulty with fine motor skills of the hands.
Lower-level disk herniation
Disk herniation can also occur at the thoracic or lumbar levels of the spine. When this occurs, complications are more likely to affect the lower extremities, including the pelvis. According to the Mayo Clinic, patients may experience saddle anesthesia due to a herniated disk of the lumbar spine. This causes a lack of sensation in the area of the buttocks, back of the legs and inner thighs. This can get progressively worse over time.
Compression of the spinal cord or nerves can also cut off the signals to the bladder and bowel. Incontinence or excretory dysfunction may occur as a result.