The spine is composed of many vertebrae stacked on top of each other. Between these bones are discs, which act as shock absorbers. The shock-absorbing discs resemble jelly donuts, each having a jelly-like center. As we age, the discs naturally become less flexible and more brittle. Normal disc degeneration which naturally occurs with old age, can also cause pain.
Like back strain, neck strain is an irritation to tendons, muscles and ligaments in the upper back and neck area. Whiplash is characterized by a collection of symptoms that occur following damage to the neck, usually because of sudden extension and flexion, such as in a car accident.
Spondylolysis relates to instability of specific bones in the low back. It a very common cause of back pain, particularly in adolescents. For example, gymnasts and cheerleaders who perform routines that bend and arch the back are often victims of spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis, where the vertebrae can move out of their proper position. The former term relates to a facet joint cracking but the vertebra has yet to move out of its normal position. The latter term relates to when the vertebra has slid out of position which can cause instability and poses risk to the spinal cord.
Spondylolisthesis occurs when one of the bones (vertebra) in the spine moves forward and out of place. This happens most often in the lower back or lumbar region of the spine but can happen anywhere along the spine. Some people may experience no symptoms at all. Other people with spondylolisthesis may develop mild to severe back and leg pain.
Stenosis is a condition that can develop as a person ages, particularly in those over 50. It is characterized by a narrowing of the spinal canal, which places pressure on the spinal cord and nerves, because there is not enough room for them. It resembles placing a ring on your finger. If the finger becomes injured or inflamed, the ring constricts and causes pain. The pain caused by stenosis is typically focused in the low back area and can shoot down the legs and flare up after walking or exercising.
Scoliosis is a disease characterized by an abnormal curvature to the spine, in which the vertebrae twist like a bent corkscrew. In less severe cases, scoliosis may cause the bones to twist slightly, making the hips or ribs appear uneven. When this occurs, the problem is more cosmetic and less of a health risk.
Back strain is a fairly broad category called “soft tissue injury,” which covers muscles, tendons and ligaments. About 80% of back and neck pain is muscle-related.
Kyphosis and lordosis are types of spinal deformities. While slight curvature of the spine is normal and healthy, there are some cases where it is over-pronounced and can cause both cosmetic deformity and health risks. When the spine curves inward too much in the low back, it is called lordosis. When the spine in the shoulder blade or mid-spine area has too much forward curve, or too much of a hump, it is called kyphosis. Kyphosis most often occurs in the thoracic area of the spine.
Skeletal irregularities place strain on the vertebrae and supporting muscles, tendons, ligaments and tissues supported by spinal column. These irregularities include scoliosis, a curving of the spine to the side; kyphosis, in which the normal curve of the upper back is severely rounded; lordosis, an abnormally accentuated arch in the lower back; back extension, a bending backward of the spine; and back flexion, in which the spine bends forward.
Spinal cord tumors are abnormal growths of tissue found inside the bony spinal column, which is one of the primary components of the central nervous system (CNS). Benign tumors are noncancerous, and malignant tumors are cancerous. The CNS is housed within rigid, bony quarters (i.e., the skull and spinal column), so any abnormal growth, whether benign or malignant, can place pressure on sensitive tissues and impair function. Tumors that originate in the brain or spinal cord are called primary tumors.
A bone spur, or osteophyte, is a projection of bone that develops and grows along the edge of joints. Bone spurs are fairly common in people over the age of 60. It is not the bone spur itself that is the real problem; pain and inflammation begin to occur when the bone spur rubs against nerves and bones.
The shock-absorbing discs that separate the bones in the spine are probably the most common reason for spine surgery. The disc is much like a jelly doughnut, in that there is an outside wall to the disc and a soft center. The “jelly” is the inner spongy portion of the disc, called the nucleus pulposus. Encircling the jelly nucleus are hard bands of fibrous tissue called the annulus fibrosis, or disc wall.
When you go to the dentist to get a cavity filled, the dentist will remind you to floss and brush your teeth daily to prevent future cavities. Similarly, we strongly emphasize a daily back or neck exercise program to prevent a future recurrence of back strain. Once you have a back pain attack, you’re four times more likely to have a recurrence. Being a previous victim of back pain requires you to work extra hard to prevent future back attacks.