The spine is the main support for the human body and provides protection for the spinal cord. It is comprised of 33 vertebrae that permit the body to maintain an upright position as well as to bend. These vertebrae include not only the articulating bones of three regions of the spine, cervical (neck), thoracic (chest), and lumbar lower back), but also the stationary vertebrae of the sacrum and coccyx that make up the bottom of the spine.
How Common Are Back Problems?
About 80 percent of all adults will suffer significant back pain at some time in their lives. In some cases, the pain is the result of overuse or injury and may heal with or without treatment. In other cases, the pain results from congenital malformations or deteriorative processes and is ongoing. In these cases, reparative surgery may be necessary.
What Are The Causes Of Back Pain?
Back pain usually occurs as a result of spinal nerve compression. Common reasons for back pain include:
- Deterioration from arthritic degeneration
- Herniation of a disc
- Sprain, sprain or tear of a muscle, tendon or ligament
- Fracture of a vertebra
- Compression fracture of a facet, the joint between vertebrae
- Spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal
Less frequent causes of back pain include disorders such as muscular dystrophy, scoliosis and ankylosing spondylitis, bacterial infections of the spine and spinal tumors. Back pain often worsens as patients age and osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis are more common.
How Are Back Problems Diagnosed?
Spinal problems are diagnosed through the use of some combination of the following:
- Physical examination
- Diagnostic imaging tests, like X-rays, CT, MRI or bone scan
- Muscle or bone lesion biopsy
- Electromyogram (EMG)
How Is Back Pain Treated?
A wide range of treatments are used for back pain. The more conservative methods of treatment include rest, pain medication, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), weight loss, regular exercise, and, in some cases, physical therapy and corticosteroid injections.
When conservative methods do not provide relief, or when the patient’s condition worsens, surgery is considered. Depending on the individual case, the surgery performed may be a discectomy, a disc replacement, a laminectomy, a spinal fusion or a vertebral corpectomy.
What Are Disc Problems?
Discs between the vertebrae help to cushion the bones and allow for smooth and painless movement. Symptoms arise when part of the disc material begins to protrude, known as disc herniation, or when the disc begins to wear down, known as disc degeneration. These conditions can cause pain that radiates down the arm or leg and weakness or numbness in the affected limb.
What Is Spinal Stenosis?
As spinal degeneration occurs naturally with age, bone spurs may form and narrow the space in the spinal canal. These bone spurs press on the spinal cord or nerve roots and causes pain.