The human spine can be compared to a well-oiled machine when it’s functioning properly. It’s also a structure that provides protection for nerves, shock/stress absorption to handle your daily movements, flexibility so you can do things like bend and twist, and strength so you can maintain your posture. Yet there are times when one or more of the parts of this “machine” could be contributing to back pain and other disruptive symptoms. Here’s what you need to know about back pain and how it’s sometimes related to spinal anatomy.
Because the lower spine is highly mobile and exposed, the five spinal bones located here (L1 to L5) are a frequent source of spine-related discomfort. More specifically, muscle strain is a common reason for lower back pain that could contribute to involuntary contractions (spasms) or nerve irritation. Highly mobile lower back segments can also be affected by:
• Spinal disc wear and tear (lumbar degenerative disc disease)
• Damaged lower back spinal discs (lumbar herniated discs)
• Damaged spinal (facet) joints
Starting in the lower back and moving downward, the sciatic nerve is the longest single nerve in the human body. A common source of sciatic nerve irritation (sciatica) is pressure caused by a herniated disc in the lower back area. A spinal joint dysfunction can also produce symptoms that include:
• Pain that extends into one leg (radiculopathy)
• Numbness and tingling sensations
• General weakness or a loss of lower body strength
Another vulnerable part of the backbone is the cervical spine, or neck. It’s fairly mobile and burdened with the task of supporting the head while also serving as a link between the brain and the rest of the body. The seven vertebrae and related soft tissues in this area can be affected by:
• Muscle strain and/or ligament sprain caused by overuse or overextension
• Sleeping in awkward positions
• Rapid backward/forward neck movements (whiplash), such as what can happen during a car accident
The neck can also be affected by underlying structural problems. Along with a herniated disc in the neck area (cervical herniated disc), issues of this nature could include abnormal spinal canal narrowing in the neck area (cervical spinal stenosis) and disc damage related to arthritis (cervical osteoarthritis). Spinal discs in the neck can also be affected by age-related or accelerated wear (cervical degenerative disc disease).
The dozen vertebrae that make up the upper back (thoracic spine) can also be a source of back pain. Because this part of the spine is largely protected by the ribs and not excessively affected by movement, it’s not a common source of spine-related pain. However, it can still be affected by spinal joint issues, muscle spasms, or a damaged upper back disc (thoracic herniated disc).
You don’t have to be a spinal anatomy expert to receive an accurate diagnosis from your doctor or a Los Angeles spine surgeon and benefit from the recommended treatments. However, having a general idea of how back pain is related to your backbone’s various structures can help you have a more focused and productive discussion about your symptoms.
There are many ways the spine can cause pain, but there are also many ways spine specialists can alleviate the pain. If they’re interested in learning about pain-relieving treatments such as fusion procedures and back fusion alternatives, Los Angeles residents should reach out to the physicians at The Spine Institute. Give us a call today at 310-828-7757 and take the first steps toward living a pain-free life.