Many different soft tissues work together to provide direct or indirect support to the spine, including thick, connective tissues called ligaments. Specifically, there are 14 main ligaments running from the top to the bottom of the spine that control flexion, extension, and motion in the neck and back. One or more of these ligaments may become overstretched or damaged enough to become torn. Here’s a closer look at what causes spinal ligaments to become torn and what you can do about it.
Ligaments in the spine hold vertebrae together along the spinal column. Spinal ligaments are different from the ones in the knees or elbows in that they are less flexible. For this reason, it’s easier for these fibrous tissues to become torn from motions that abnormally twist, turn, stress, or overextend the spine.
Because the lower back is more mobile and susceptible to injury than other parts of the spine, ligaments in this area are usually the ones damaged. In fact, most instances of lower back pain are related to issues with muscles, ligaments, or tendons. Possible reasons for ligament tears affecting the spine include:
• Improper lifting techniques • Pregnancy • Vehicle accidents • Sudden trauma while playing high-impact sports • Age-related damage due to conditions such as spinal osteoarthritis
Initial signs of a torn spinal ligament typically include some degree of pain around the affected area of the back. Pain is sometimes more consistent than what’s normally experienced with other sources of discomfort, such as a herniated disc. Affected patients may also notice:
• Reduced range of motion in the spine • Tenderness in the affected area • Related muscle spasms • Visible swelling or bruising
During a physical exam, patients are usually asked to describe their pain in as much detail as possible. Based on medical history and an understanding of what actions or movements seem to trigger symptoms, an accurate diagnosis of a torn spinal ligament can usually be made. For times when symptoms are too vague to do this, image tests may be done to rule out other issues and assess the overall condition of the spine and its supporting structures.
Spinal ligament conditions are often successfully managed with conservative (non-surgical) treatments. Even when a ligament is torn, it may naturally heal when a patient wears a back or neck brace to limit movement in the affected area. While surgery is rarely necessary for torn spinal ligaments, it sometimes becomes a possibility if relief isn’t experienced with:
• Anti-inflammatory medications • Moderate exercise following a few days of rest • Patient-specific physical therapy exercises • Therapeutic techniques, such as hot and cold therapy and massage therapy, that can increase circulation in the affected area and promote healing
Reduce your odds of tearing or irritating spinal ligaments by getting regular exercise, stretching before you get active, and consuming foods and spices that naturally fight inflammation, such as berries, green, leafy veggies, whole grains, turmeric, and cinnamon. If conservative treatments aren’t providing sufficient relief, talk to your doctor or a Los Angeles spine surgeon about options that may include minimally invasive procedures to repair ligaments and correct related damage to vertebrae or discs.
Whether it’s a torn spinal ligament or another condition related to the back or neck, there are a variety of solutions for treatment. At The Spine Institute, we specialize in procedures such as spinal fusion, decompression, and cervical disc replacement surgery. Los Angeles patients can rely on Dr. Hyun Bae and his team of expert surgeons to diagnose the source of their pain and help them find relief. Call 310-828-7757 today to schedule an in-person evaluation.