Understanding the back
The spine is a complex and important system that serves as the human body’s main support structure. The spinal column consists of thirty-three bones known as vertebrae. These are divided into five regions:
cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral, coccygeal
Rubbery disks that act like soft pads are located in between the vertebrae. They absorb shock in addition to allowing the back to bend and flex. Disks in the lower back (lumbar) are much larger than the ones found in the neck (cervical).
Common Injuries involving the Spine
Disks are flat and composed of a gel-like inner nucleus which is surrounded by a thick layer of cartilage. A disk can herniate or rupture when the nucleus gets shifted from the middle to the outer edge making the disk uneven on one side. This causes pressure to be placed on the spinal nerves resulting in numbness, pain, or weakness in one or both legs. Symptoms can be felt in the neck and the lower back. Only a small percentage disk herniations call for surgery. In the majority of cases, nonsurgical treatment is used in an attempt to relieve the painful symptoms.
The word “osteoporosis” literally means porous bone. Osteoporosis is a disease that progressively causes bone loss and increases the risk of fractures. It is common for there to be no symptoms present until a fracture occurs. The long term effects of Osteoporosis can cause a loss of height and a severely rounded or humped upper back.
Adding substantial amounts of Calcium and Vitamin D to your diet is the best way to effectively prevent Osteoporosis, slow down its progression, and protect your bones from the fractures it can cause.
Low Back Pain
There are multiple causes of lower back pain. Sometimes it is triggered by trauma or a specific movement like lifting. However, many back conditions can simply be explained by aging which is accompanied by degenerative changes to the spine. Other common causes of lower back pain include:
- Disk Injury
- Slipped or Herniated Disk
- Disk Tear
- Disk Degeneration
- Degenerative Spondylolisthesis
- Spinal Stenosis
Fractures of the Thoracic and Lumbar Spine
Spinal fractures can vary from serious injuries that require emergency treatment to mild fractures in bones that were weakened as a result of osteoporosis. Spinal fractures are more common in the midback (thoracic) and lower back (lumbar spine) or at the connection of the two (thoracolumbar junction).
These fractures cause moderate to severe back pain which is intensified with movement. In some cases, the spinal cord is involved causing the patient to experience tingling or numbness in the limbs and dysfunction of the bowel/bladder.
Doctors classify spine fractures based on the pattern of the fracture and whether a spinal cord injury is involved. There are three major types of spine fractures:
minimally invasive spine surgery
In most cases, spine surgery will only be recommended after a nonsurgical treatment has been tried and the symptoms were not relieved. Surgery is also more likely to be recommended when the exact source of pain, such as a herniated disk, can be identified.
The traditional method of conducting surgery on the spine is referred to as “open” surgery. This means that a long incision is made so that the orthopedic surgeon can access the anatomy in the area being operated on. Newer “minimally invasive” techniques have been developed using modern technology that allows a range of neck and back procedures to be performed with much smaller incisions. This minimizes damage to surrounding m muscle and tissue resulting in a much shorter recovery time.
Minimally invasive techniques are often used for common procedures like spinal fusion, bulging disc, bone spurs, and decompression.
Ultrasound and X-ray technologies are used to administer Spinal injections with pin-point accuracy. This method is known as fluoroscopy. Spinal injections are used to diagnose the source of pain and to treat it.
Most spinal injections are performed as part of a non-surgical treatment program which can also include an exercise program to improve spinal mobility, strength, and stability.