The back is one of our most important anatomic structures, providing support and facilitating mobility and balance for the entire body, as well as protecting the spinal cord. Because of the loads placed on it each and every day, it’s no surprise this well-designed structure, consisting of bones (vertebrae), discs, muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves, is particularly susceptible to injury and other conditions.
Neck pain and other symptoms caused by a cervical (neck) spine disorder are a very common problem. The neck, or cervical spine, is made up of seven vertebrae separated by shock-absorbing intervertebral discs and supported by muscles and ligaments, and also is rich in spinal nerves and nerve roots.
True sciatica is a condition that occurs when a herniated lumbar disc compresses one of the contributing roots of the sciatic nerve. This condition is often accompanied by low back pain, which can be more or less severe than the leg pain. The term "sciatica" indicates that the sciatic nerve, which travels from the lower back through the buttocks and into the leg, is thought to be the cause of the pain in this condition.
Brachialgia is the medical term for pain produced by a trapped nerve in the neck leading to pain radiating down the arm. Like sciatica, it can be of sudden onset and extremely severe or of gradual onset and with symptoms that are more prolonged. The cause of the trapped nerve in the neck that produces the brachialgia is either a disc prolapse or more longstanding degenerate changes producing compression on the cervical nerve root.
Myelopathy is the term used to describe the consequences of spinal cord compression. It characteristically occurs due to spinal cord compression in the neck (the cervical spine), although can occur more uncommonly in the thoracic spine (the portion of the spine within the rib cage). The causes for myelopathy are the same as described for brachialgia, namely a disc prolapse or more longstanding spondylotic changes in the spine.
Discs are highly modified joints which lie between each of the vertebrae in the spine. Not only do they act as a joint to allow movement between adjacent vertebrae but they also have important shock-absorbing properties. Discs are oval structures and a few millimetres in height and their size depends on their level in the spine. The discs in the neck (the cervical spine) are significantly smaller than in the lower back (lumbar spine).
Spinal stenosis means spinal narrowing. It invariably occurs due to longstanding wear and tear in the affected part of the spine and can happen either in the neck or the lower back. Most commonly, however, spinal stenosis is used to refer to problems in the lumbar spine or lower back.
Foraminal stenosis is a condition in which one or more of the vertebral foramen narrows, impinging on or “pinching” the spinal nerve roots. It may be caused by a variety of conditions, most of which are associated with degenerative changes in the spine.
Spondylosis is the medical term used to describe the appearance of degenerative changes in the spine. These degenerative changes are most commonly age-related and, therefore, their frequency increases with age. By the age of 50, most people will have some evidence of spondylosis on imaging.
Spondylolisthesis occurs when one vertebra slips forward on the adjacent vertebrae. The condition may be congenital (hereditary), or the result of physical stresses on the spine or spinal degeneration. It may produce both a gradual deformity of the lower spine and also a narrowing of the vertebral canal, and can cause back pain, leg pain and other symptoms.
Cauda equina syndrome is a serious condition caused by the compression and inflammation of the bundle of nerves in the lower section of the spinal canal. Because it may result in paralysis, bowel/bladder incontinence and other sensation and movement problems if left untreated, spine surgery is typically required.
Discitis, or disc space infection, is an inflammatory condition that affects the intervertebral disc space located between two vertebrae, or bones, of the spine. Discitis may be caused by a bacterial or viral infection, or other inflammatory processes such as those associated with autoimmune disease.
Facet joint syndrome is a condition in which the facet joints - the joints behind and between the vertebrae responsible for the spine's stability and flexibility - become inflamed and swollen. The result can be localized or radiating back or neck pain, headaches and limited mobility.
The sacroiliac joint is located in the low back between the spine and hip joint, and normally does not move much. Misalignment of this joint can cause the pain associated with sacroiliac dysfunction.