The human spine is a uniquely durable and flexible structure that’s normally able to handle daily movements with remarkable precision. However, it does occasionally need some attention. The good news is most spine-related aches and pains are related to muscle strain that goes away with home remedies or conservative treatments. If structural issues with discs, joints, and vertebral structures are responsible for discomfort, there are many less-invasive procedures that may provide relief. The trusted Beverly Hills spine surgeons at The Spine Institute have put together a list featuring a few basic facts about the human spine.
1. Some Spinal Bones Naturally Fuse Together
Healthy individuals are born with a spine that has 33 separate vertebrae (5 in the lower back, 12 in the mid-back, and 7 in the neck) and 23 discs. What you may not know is that some of the spine’s bones naturally fuse together over time to form 24 vertebrae. This usually happens due to age-related changes within the spine. On a related note, changes due to the natural aging process can contribute to:
- Herniated discs
- Vertebral bones slipping forward (spondylolisthesis)
- A natural reduction in spinal disc height
- Spinal stenosis that produces more distracting symptoms later in life
2. The Spine Is Flexible Enough to Almost Form a Circle
The backbone is incredibly flexible, so much so that it can be bent to form two-thirds of a circle. This flexibility allows the spine to handle movements involving reaching, bending, twisting, and turning. There are several steps you can take to retain your spine’s flexibility and range of motion, including:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Getting regular exercise
- Eating foods that naturally keep bones and spine-supporting muscles healthy, like green leafy veggies, bright-colored fruits, low-fat dairy products, and fatty fish
3. The Spine Has Five Sections
Many people assume the spine has three main sections, but there are actually five altogether. The cervical spine is the neck, which is where the spine connects with the base of the brain. The mid-spine is the thoracic spine. It’s protected by the ribs and other structures, which is why it’s rarely the main source of back pain.
The lumbar, or lower, spine plays a more direct role in movements. For this reason, the lumbar spine is the source of most spine-related symptoms. Just below this area is the sacrum, a triangular bone nestled between the hips.
Then there’s the coccyx, which is the tailbone. Pain linked to the tailbone (coccydynia) is rare, although it sometimes occurs following childbirth or a direct impact to this area.
4. Tiny Spinal Joints Do a Lot of Work
The spine has over a hundred small joints called facet joints spread out across all levels that maintain the fluidity of daily movements. The natural aging process, progressive conditions like osteoarthritis, and increased pressure can take a toll on facet joints.
If you experience discomfort primarily caused by an issue with your spine’s joints, it’s referred to as facet joint syndrome. Most patients respond well to non-surgical treatments. The most common surgical remedy is fusion of the affected joints (arthrodesis).
5. Most Americans Experience Back Pain
You are not alone if you have spine-related pain. In fact, approximately 80 percent of all Americans will have back pain at one time or another. It’s also one of the top reasons for doctors’ visits and the number one cause of work-related disability.
6. Many Muscles and Soft Tissues Support the Spine
The spine doesn’t handle all movements on its own. It gets direct support from over a hundred muscles and approximately 220 individual ligaments. Indirect support is provided by muscles in the abdomen, buttocks, hips, and thighs.
7. More Than 25 Percent of the Spine’s Length Comes from Cartilage
Spinal vertebrae are separated by flexible, fibrous tissue known as cartilage, also found in the knees and around other joints. If this cartilage excessively wears down or becomes damaged, it can increase friction against the spine’s bone and contribute to inflammation and nerve irritation. In some instances, cartilage deterioration can make the spine unstable.
If you are experiencing chronic pain in your spine, you might need minimally invasive neck surgery. Beverly Hills residents should reach out to The Spine Institute and schedule an in-person evaluation. Call 310-828-7757 today.