Spine, Back & Neck Conditions

A closer look at the spine, back & neck

The spine, made up of a column of bones called vertebrae, is the part of the skeleton that extends down the center of the back. The spine plays an important role in posture and movement, and it also protects the spinal cord.

The human spine consists of 33 vertebrae, but some of them grow together in adults. There are 7 cervical (neck), 12 thoracic (chest region), 5 lumbar (lower back), 5 sacral (hip region), and 4 coccygeal (tailbone region) vertebrae.

The vertebrae are held in place by muscles and strong connective tissue called ligaments. Most vertebrae have fibrous intervertebral disks between them to absorb shock and enable the spine to bend.

back & neck injuryThe back’s intricate structure makes it capable of incredible flexibility and strength. However, when pain and injury disrupt the normal function of the spine, even simple activities can become difficult.

Back & neck pain, conditions & injury

Back pain affects about 80 percent of adults at least once in their lives, and is the leading cause of disability and worker’s compensation claims in the United States. Pain can occur in any of the back muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and/or discs (spongy pads that cushion the bones of the spine).

Back pain can be caused by many factors, including age, lifestyle and health habits, lack of exercise, smoking, and family history.

Back pain is often the result of improper or heavy lifting, strained muscles and ligaments, long periods of sitting, repetitive motions, or sudden, awkward movements. Trauma and injury from car accidents or falls can also be a source of back pain or spine injury. Some back pain has no direct cause.

Patients experience back and neck pain in different ways. It may occur as a muscle ache or shooting pain, or the pain may radiate down the leg. Back problems may limit a patient’s range of motion, or make it difficult or impossible to stand up straight.

Structural issues from other conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis, or a herniated disc can also cause pain in the spine. Skeletal conditions can cause the spine to curve in abnormal ways. In rare cases, tumors may develop on the spine that can cause pain or interfere with mobility.

Common causes of back pain treated at MOS are:

Arthritis

Arthritis is painful inflammation and stiffness of the joints, which can be caused by many types of degenerative joint conditions. There are over 100 types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid, gout, psoriatic, septic, post-traumatic, and lupus. Arthritis symptoms can include swelling, tenderness, sharp pain, stiffness, and sometimes fever and chills.

Cervical kyphosis

Cervical kyphosis is an abnormal curvature of the bones of the neck, which causes the head to angle forward. Symptoms of cervical kyphosis include pain, numbness, and tingling in the hands and feet. More severe cases also experience bladder and bowel dysfunction and difficulty walking.

Cervical myelopathy

Cervical myelopathy can be caused by compression of the spinal cord through the narrowing of the cervical canal (the opening in the neck bones that protects the spinal cord). Symptoms of cervical myelopathy include weakness or clumsiness of the hands, fingers, or arms, stiffness in the neck, pain, and difficulty walking.

Cervical stenosis

Cervical stenosis occurs when the cervical canal (the opening in the neck bones that protects the spinal cord) narrows, putting pressure on the nerve roots. There is a range of symptoms of cervical stenosis depending on which nerves are affected. Mild neck pain may occur, along with numbness or pain in the back, shoulders, arms, or legs. The limbs or hands may feel clumsy or uncoordinated. In more serious cases, bladder or bowel function can become impaired.

Compression fractures

A compression fracture is damage to the bones of the spine (vertebrae) that cause them to collapse and alter the shape of the spine, often caused by osteoporosis. Gradually worsening pain, increased pain with activity, loss of height, pain relief when lying down, and deformity of the spine can all indicate a compression fracture.

Degenerative disc disease

Degenerative disc disease is the damage or deterioration of the spongy cushions between the bones of the spine (discs), causing chronic pain in the neck (cervical spine) or lower back (lumbar spine). Symptoms of degenerative disc disease include pain that may increase during movement of the neck or back.

Herniated discs (bulging discs, ruptured discs)

Herniated disc is the bulging or rupture of an intervertebral disc (the spongy cushion between the vertebrae of the spine).

When the outer ring of a disc becomes damaged or slips out of place, the inner portion may bulge out between the vertebrae, which is called a bulging disc.

In the case of a ruptured disc, the inner portion bursts open completely. Symptoms of a herniated disc depend on the location of the disc, but can include pain, numbness, or weakness.

Kyphosis

Kyphosis is an abnormal outward curvature of the upper back (thoracic spine) that causes hunching. In addition to the exaggerated curve of the back, kyphosis may cause pain or stiffness in the back. Kyphosis is also known as hunchback or dowager’s hump.

Lordosis

Lordosis is an abnormal forward curvature of the lumbar spine (lower back) that is also known as swayback.

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a medical condition in which the bones become porous and fragile from loss of calcium. Symptoms usually do not show in early stages of osteoporosis, but easily induced fractures, back pain, or a stooped posture can develop.

Radiculopathy

Radiculopathy occurs when one of the spinal nerve roots is compressed near the vertebrae (bones), causing damage or disturbance of nerve function.

Sciatica

Sciatica is radiating pain, tingling, or numbness in the back, buttock, back of the leg, and/or foot produced by pressure on the nerve roots that lead to the sciatic nerve.

Scoliosis

Scoliosis is a lateral (toward the side) curvature in the spine. Symptoms of scoliosis include uneven shoulders or waist, one hip appearing higher than the other, and/or one shoulder blade appearing more prominent than the other.

Spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis occurs when the spinal canal, which is the opening for the spinal cord, narrows, squeezing or compressing the nerve roots. Symptoms of spinal stenosis include unexplained pain in the low back or legs and frequent tripping or falling. Numbness, sensations of hot or cold, and tingling in the legs can also be indicators of spinal stenosis.

Spine trauma

Spine trauma occurs when there is severe injury to the spine or spinal cord due to accidents, falls, penetrating injuries, or forceful blows.

Spinal tumors

spinal tumor is a cancerous or benign growth in the spinal cord, between the membranes covering the spinal cord, or in the spinal canal. A spinal tumor can compress the spinal cord or its nerve roots, causing symptoms such as back pain, muscle weakness in the limbs, difficulty walking, or loss of sensitivity to temperature and pain. Losing control of the bladder and bowel function and partial paralysis may also occur.

Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis is a condition in which one bone (vertebra) slides forward, out of position, over another vertebra in the spine.

Spondylosis

Spondylosis is a defect or fracture of one or both of the wing-shaped parts of a vertebra, or spinal bone, which allows the bone to slide forward or backward over another vertebra.

Weak back

Weak back is a condition that occurs when the muscles in the back and abdomen are not strong enough to support the spine properly, leading to pain in the lower (lumbar) region of the spine.