The spinal column is one of the most vital parts of the human body, supporting our trunks and making all of our movements possible. When the spine is injured and its function is impaired the consequences can be painful and even disabling. According to estimates, 80 percent of Americans will experience low back pain at least once in their lifetime. A small number of patients will develop chronic or degenerative spinal disorders that can be disabling.
Men and women are equally affected by lower back pain, and most back pain occurs between the ages of 25 and 60. However, no age is completely immune. Approximately 12% to 26% of children and adolescents suffer from low back pain. Fortunately most low back pain is acute, and will resolve itself in three days to six weeks with or without treatment. If pain and symptoms persist for longer than 3 months to a year, the condition is considered chronic.
Humans are born with 33 separate vertebrae. By adulthood, most have only 24, due to the fusion of the vertebrae in certain parts of the spine during normal development. The lumbar spine consists of 5 vertebrae called L1 through -L5. Below the lumbar spine, nine vertebrae at the base of the spine grow together. Five form the triangular bone called the sacrum. The two dimples in most everyone’s back (historically known as the “dimples of Venus”) are where the sacrum joins the hip bones, called the sacroiliac joint. The lowest four vertebrae form the tailbone or coccyx.
The anatomy of the spinal column is extremely well designed to serve many functions. All of the elements of the spinal column and vertebrae serve the purpose of protecting the spinal cord, which provides communication to the brain, mobility and sensation in the body through the complex interaction of bones, ligaments and muscle structures of the back and the nerves that surround it. The back is also the powerhouse for the entire body, supporting our trunks and making all of the movements of our head, arms, and legs possible.
Common Spinal Conditions
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) is an uncommon, chronic condition that usually affects your arm or leg. Rarely, the disease can affect other parts of your body. You may experience intense burning or aching pain along with swelling, skin discoloration, altered temperature, abnormal sweating and hypersensitivity in the affected area.
Many of the problems in the spine are caused because of the process of degeneration of the intervertebral disc. Everything you do during the day – once you stand upright – begins to test the spine’s ability to support your body weight. Over time, these repeated daily stresses and minor injuries can add up and begin to affect the discs in your spine. Minor injuries to the disc may occur and not cause pain at the time of the injury.
Facet arthropathy is degenerative arthritis affecting the facet joints in the spine. In the area of the spine where there are facet joints, arthritis pain can develop.
Spinal discs have a ring of cartilage along the outside that contains a gel-like substance. The outer cartilage of the disc can weaken over time or with a sudden injury, causing the inner disc material to push through that outer wall. This condition is known as a herniated disc, but is also commonly referred to as a slipped or ruptured disc.
Scoliosis occurs when the spine develops a sideways curve. It is most common in children and adolescents. There are several different treatment options available for scoliosis, depending on the severity and the age of the patient.
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the space inside the spine that can put pressure on the nerves within the spinal canal. Our spine specialists at Seaview treat spinal stenosis frequently, as it is a very common condition affecting the neck and back.
Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis
Spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis are common among young athletes, particularly those participating in activities that put stress on the lower back. Repetitive stress on a weak area of the vertebra, called the pars, causes it to break down. This can lead to a defect or fracture.
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