Anatomy of the Back and Spine
Your spine is made up of 24 bones, called vertebrae. These bones stack on top of each other and connect to create a tunnel that protects your spinal cord. Your spinal cord is responsible for getting messages from your brain to the rest of your body and, obviously, is of critical importance. Spinal injuries are never to be taken lightly. Your spine is made up of three segments that form three natural curves. The “c-shaped” curves of the neck are the cervical spine. Five vertebrae make up the lower back called the lumbar spine. The “reverse c-shaped” curve of the chest is called the thoracic spine. Not only does your spine protect your spinal cord, it supports your head, chest, and the rest of your body and it allows you to bend and twist. Intervertebral disks separate your vertebrae like cushions to absorb any shock and keep the vertebrae from crashing into each other.
Common Spinal Injuries
There are many reasons for back pain from car accidents, to heredity, to age. You don’t have to live with back pain. Let the specialists at DFP Back and Spine Orthopaedic Surgery help. The most common fractures of the spine occur in the thoracic (midback) and lumbar spine (lower back) or at the connection of the two (thoracolumbar junction). These fractures are typically caused by high-velocity accidents, such as a car crash or fall from height.
Fracture of the Thoracic & Lumbar Spine
The most common fractures of the spine occur in the thoracic (midback) and lumbar spine (lower back) or at the connection of the two (thoracolumbar junction). Fractures of the thoracic and lumbar spine are usually caused by high-energy trauma such as a car accident, fall from a significant height, sports accident, or even a gunshot wound. Because these types of fractures are usually accompanied by other injuries, a physical examination by a doctor is followed by a radiologic exam which may include x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs of the spine. The orthopaedic specialist will determine if surgery is necessary. Many times, depending on the spinal fracture, recovery may involve a simple brace and increased movement over time. Other, more severe injuries may require surgery.
Osteoporosis & Spinal Fractures
As we age, our bones lose density and become more porous and weak. In fact, fractures caused by osteoporosis occur most often in the spine-almost twice as often as broken hips and wrists. These fractures are referred to as compression fractures. This spinal compression can cause a variety of spine and back symptoms. Patients may notice they are developing a hump in their spine or that they are getting shorter. This is because when too much pressure is placed on a vertebrae, the front of it cracks and loses height. As bones weaken, simple everyday activities such as bending, twisting, or even sneezing can cause a bone to break in the spine. Most of the vertebrae break near the waistline or slightly above or below it. Symptoms include pain near the break and this pain can worsen if the person stands or sits for extended periods of time. The good news is that these fractures usually heal themselves over a 6-8 week period. A doctor will usually prescribe rest, pain medications, and occasionally, a brace. Fractures that do not respond to these measures or fractures that cause severe pain may require surgery.
Spondylolysis & Spondylolisthesis
Young athletes often suffer from this common spinal ailment. It is the most common cause of low back pain in adolescent athletes. Spondylolysis is a stress fracture usually in the fifth lumbar vertebra. If the bone is severely weakened by the fracture, the vertebra can slip out of place. This is called spondylolithesis. When the bone slips too far out of place, it can press on nerves and surgery may be required to repair the problem. Common causes include heredity (thin vertebral bone), growth spurts, overuse (usually associated with sports). Spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis may feel like muscle strain and may cause muscle spasms. X-rays will help doctors to diagnose this condition. Usually, non surgical treatment including rest, anti-inflammatory drugs and ibuprofen for pain are prescribed. Sometimes a back brace and therapy are included as well. If slippage worsens or pain does not decrease, spinal fusion surgery can be necessary.
Herniated disks are the same as slipped or ruptured disks. They usually occur in the neck or lower back and can cause pain in the neck, lower back, and even the arms and legs. Disks are rubbery pads that grow between the vertabrae that make up the spine. They keep the vertebrae from touching each other and absorb shock from running and jumping motions. They also are what allows the back to bend and flex painlessly. A thick out ring of tough cartilage protects the jelly-like substance inside the disks. When a disk ruptures (herniates), the soft center pushes through the outer lining and back toward the spinal canal. It puts pressure on the nerves and causes pain, numbness, and weakness in the legs. As we age, the disks lose water content and become less flexible. They shrink and this allows the vertebrae to get closer and closer. Symptoms include lower back pain and neck pain. The most common symptom of lower back disk herniation is a shooting pain from the buttock down the back of one leg (sciatica). Herniated disks in the neck can cause pain shooting down the arm, burning pain in the neck, headaches, and even loss of bladder or bowel control. X-rays, MRI scans, CT scans, or electromyography (a test that measures nerve impulses to the muscles) can help diagnose a herniated disk. Luckily, non-surgical treatment helps relieve symptoms in 90% of patients. Rest, pain relievers, muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatory medicines and cold compresses are usually recommended. If the disk fragment gets lodged in the spinal canal and presses on a nerve, surgery may be required.
From osteoporosis to herniated disks to spinal fractures, trust your spinal problems to the orthopaedic surgeons at Drisko, Fee & Parkins. Our physicians are board certified and can diagnose bone and joint pain problems quickly and correctly. When you need orthopaedic surgery, joint reconstruction or total joint replacement, you need the orthopaedic surgeons at DFP.