In this article I will describe the main diseases of the spine so you can identify them and prevent them from happening again.
Back pain is very common, I do not know anyone who has not suffered at least once in their life. They are usually caused by a contracture caused by poor posture.
Diseases of the Spine
Anatomy of the spine
The spine is made up of 26 disc-shaped bones, called vertebrae, linked together by tendons and ligaments. This structure is highly resistant, while flexible, and is designed to protect the bone marrow and keep us upright.
In the vertebral column four regions can be differentiated:
- The cervical area (the neck). The neck supports all the weight of our head and is the first protective barrier of the nerves of the marrow, which leave the brain and reach the lower back, and other nerves that innervate the rest of the body. This region is composed of 7 vertebrae (C1-C7), the upper ones are smaller and the size of the vertebrae increases as it goes down. The segments between the two upper vertebrae (C1-C2 and C2-C3) * are especially important for the rotation of the head, while the two lower segments (C5-C6 and C6-C7) are for flexion and extension of the neck. In the following link you can see a video about the anatomy of the vertical area of the column.
- The dorsal or thoracic area (upper part of the back). This area is attached to the rib cage, each vertebra is attached to a rib, and together they form a resistant structure designed to protect the vital organs located in that position, such as the heart or lungs. This region is formed by 12 vertebrae (T1-T12) that remain firm and are not very flexible, therefore, besides protecting the internal organs, they serve to maintain the posture.
- The lower back (the lower part of the back). This area has much more mobility than the dorsal area, but it must also carry the full weight of the torso and, sometimes, it is not strong enough, so it is the area of the spine that most often gives problems. This area is composed of 5 vertebrae (L1-L5), most of the mobility of this area is due to the segments between the last three vertebrae (L3-L4 and L4-L5), therefore, the majority of the lesions are located in these segments. In the following link you can see a video about anatomy of the lower back of the spine.
- The sacral area (the lowest part of the spine). The end of the lumbar spine is a bone called sacrum, this bone is embedded in the iliac bones of the pelvis through the sacroiliac joints and is shaped like a hollow triangle to connect the spinal cord with the lower part of our body.
* The segments are named indicating the two vertebrae between which they are.
Injuries and diseases of the spine
The spine is a complex structure, formed by multiple bones and joints, therefore, it is not strange that sometimes something happens in one of the structures that form it and we feel pain in the neck, back and even legs.
The potential problems for which pain related to the spine is felt are:
- Pinching or irritation of the long nerves that go to the legs and arms.
- Pinching or irritation of the short nerves that are around the spine.
- Distension of the erector muscles of the back (the two large muscles that are on both sides of the spine).
- Any injury to bones, ligaments and / or joints.
- Problems related to the segments that lie between the vertebrae.
These problems can be caused by multiple conditions or conditions, including:
- Diseases such as ankylosing spondylitis and scoliosis.
- Bone changes related to age, such as spinal stenosis and disc hernias.
Next, the main causes of back pain categorized according to the height of the spine where the problem occurs will be discussed.
The intricate structure of the cervical vertebrae is forced every day simply by daily tasks (such as working in front of a computer) that overload it. Some of the most frequent conditions are:
- Degenerative cervical disc disease. The most common symptoms in people suffering from this disease are stiffness and neck pain, although they may also suffer from tingling, numbness or weakness in the neck, shoulders and arms as a result of irritation or pinching of the nerves in the cervical area due to the degeneration of the discs. In addition, this disease can degenerate into a cervical stenosis and other progressive diseases and increase the chances of suffering a cervical disc herniation.
- Herniated cervical disc. The hernias occur when a portion of the inside of the disc moves and clamp or press the nerves. It is usually caused by trauma or injury to the neck and symptoms appear spontaneously. Symptoms include severe pain, tingling and muscle weakness, often beginning in the neck and extending to the shoulders and arms, and may even feel on the fingers.
- Cervical stenosis Cervical stenosis is a progressive disease in which there is a clamping of the nerves at neck height. The impingement occurs because, with age, the joints of the spinal canal harden and they end up pinching and compressing the nerves causing a cervical myelopathy. For obvious reasons, this condition is more common in older people.
- Cervical osteoarthritis. Cervical osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease or, simply, neck arthritis, is caused by the degeneration of the neck joints. People suffering from this disease feel a sharp pain in the neck that extends to the shoulders or shoulder blades, that pain is more intense at the end and at the beginning of the day and improves when the person begins to move and with rest. Sometimes they can also suffer headaches, especially in the back.
- Neck pain and stiffness. The most frequent causes of pain and neck stiffness are muscle strain or sprain, which in turn can be caused by bad posture, a sports injury, some activity that requires turning the head from side to side (such as swimming), suffer continuous stress, etc .; diseases of the spine, such as those explained above; infection or meningitis .Symptoms suffered by people with this condition include pain (which can range from mild to extreme), difficulty moving the neck sideways and, in some cases, headaches, shoulders and arms. These symptoms usually last between two days and a week and disappear spontaneously, although it is advisable to learn exercises and postures to maintain day by day to prevent reoccurrence.
Dorsal or thoracic pain
Although the structure formed by the dorsal vertebrae and the thoracic cage is quite strong and has little movement, problems can also arise in this area that cause back pain. The most common are:
- Muscle problems . The pains of the upper part of the back are caused mainly by the irritation or tension of the muscles located here, this type of pain is called myofascial. The main cause of this pain is usually bad posture.
- Joint dysfunction . Some problems in the joints that connect the ribs and the spine can cause intense pain in this area.
- Degeneration or herniated discs . These conditions are not frequent in the thoracic area, due to its rigidity, but when they occur they produce intense pain.
- Arthritis . As we age the cartilages located in the joints between the vertebrae tend to lose weight and even appear resulting in arthritis. This can irritate and inflame the nerves, causing pain caused by the tension and pressure caused on the nerves and limiting the movements that the person can perform.
- Vertebral fractures. Understanding fractures due to osteoporosis are the most common cause of chest pain . These fractures usually occur in the last vertebrae of this area (T9-T12).
- Kyphosis (hump) The kyphosis can be caused by vertebral fractures, poor posture maintained for a long time or deformity. Although the main symptom of this condition is the deformity it can also cause pain.
- Scoliosis occurs because the bones of the spine deviate abnormally to the sides and often cause pain.
Sometimes chest pain may be caused by more serious causes such as musculoskeletal diseases or some organs such as the lungs or heart.
The lumbar area of the spine is composed of multiple structures and, therefore, there are many causes that can lead to lumbar pain, in addition the problems usually occur in several structures that are related, causing a more complex problem.
The most frequent causes of low back pain are:
- Muscle problems. The most common cause of back pain are muscle problems due to muscle tension, this can be caused by poor posture, by performing a task involving these muscles repetitively or by making an excessive effort of those muscles , for example, lifting weight. The pain caused by muscle problems usually goes away in several days.
- Degeneration of the discs. The vertebral discs are spongy tissues located between the vertebrae so that there is no friction between them. The degeneration of these discs can cause the vertebrae to rub together and cause acute pain.
- Lumbar disc herniation. The most common place where disc hernias occur is the lower back. The hernia can occur suddenly due to injury or progressively due to wear. This condition usually causes severe pain and is the most frequent cause of sciatica pain that is reflected in the leg.
- Dysfunction of the sacroiliac joint. The sacroiliac joint connects the lumbar vertebrae with the coccyx. When lumbar dysfunction occurs in this joint, lumbar pain or sciatica may occur.
- Spondylolisthesis. The spondylolisthesis occurs when a vertebra slips on just below yours, which compresses the nerves and can cause sore legs or feet. This problem usually occurs more commonly in the last lumbar vertebrae or in its junction with the sacrum (L4-L5 or L5-S1).
- Osteoarthritis. The osteoarthritis is caused by wear and aging of the cartilage surrounding the joints. When this cartilage is thinned, friction between the vertebrae can occur, leading to fissures in the bones, swelling of the joints and pinching of the nerves. The main symptoms of this condition are pain and limited mobility.
- Lumbar stenosis. The stenosis is caused by normal aging, when the channel through which nerves pass becomes rigid. This rigidity irritates and compresses the nerves, which can result in leg pain, tingling, numbness and difficulty walking.
The sciatic nerve, which runs from the back to the feet passed through the legs, can be damaged or pinched with any of the aforementioned conditions. Sciatic nerve problems are characterized by intense pain and tingling that extends throughout the leg.
The sacrum is a bone that connects to the pelvis (with the iliac bones) through the sacroiliac joint. The problems of this area are often called dysfunctions of the sacroiliac joint , are more common in women than in men, and can degenerate into a problem with the sciatic nerve.
Another common problem in this area is coxidinia or coccyx pain. This condition is also more common in women and is usually caused by a local trauma (for example, a fall) or after delivery. This condition is characterized by causing intense and persistent pain at the end of the spine that gets worse when that area is pressed, for example, by sitting down.