Common Spine Conditions

Common Injuries of the Spine

 

When should I consult a spine specialist?

 

You may be suffering from a spine condition or injury if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms: 

 

  • Radiating pain from the neck to the arm/hand  Radiating pain from the back to the leg/foot

  • Back, leg, or foot pain that worsens while standing or walking and is relieved by sitting

  • Nagging pain after episodes of heavy lifting, numbness, tingling, or weakness in the arms or legs

  •  Nerve or dexterity problems in the arms and hands

  • Numbness or tingling in one or both legs

  • Weakness localized to a specific area of the leg or arm

 

Go to the emergency room if these symptoms accompany incontinence. Our spine doctor at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics understands that damage to the spinal cord is not only extremely painful and disruptive to your active lifestyle, but also potentially devastating, as it often restricts mobility and significantly reduces your quality of life.

 

Our spine doctor is committed to developing customized treatment plans to accommodate your individual condition and get you back to your active lifestyle quickly and safely. Please rest assured, while spine conditions and injuries sometimes require surgical intervention, our spine doctor only considers surgical treatment options after nonsurgical methods have proven unsuccessful.

Common Spine Conditions

Spine

Cervical Radiculopathy


Overview This condition is an irritation or compression of one or more nerve roots in the cervical spine. Because these nerves travel to the shoulders, arms and hands, an injury in the cervical spine can cause symptoms in these areas. Cervical radiculopathy may result from a variety of problems with the bones and tissues of the cervical spinal column. Causes (Herniated Disc) One common cause is a herniated disc. A herniated disc is a rupture in the fibrous outer wall of a vertebral disc, which allows the soft nucleus of the disc to bulge outward. This bulge can press harmfully against a nerve root. Causes (Degenerative Disc Disease) Another common cause of nerve root injury is degenerative disc disease. It occurs when a spinal disc weakens, allowing vertebral bones above and below the disc to shift out of position. The bones can touch, pinching nearby nerve roots. Causes (Spinal Stenosis) When bones, discs or joints of the spine degenerate, bony spurs may form and push into the spinal canal or foramen space. This is called spinal stenosis, and it can also create harmful pressure against the spinal cord or nerve roots. Nerve root injury in the cervical spine most commonly involves one of the three lowest levels of cervical vertebrae, which are called C5, C6 and C7. Symptoms may include pain, weakness, numbness and tingling, and may vary depending on the level of the injury. For example, an injury at the C5 level may cause pain and weakness in the shoulder and upper arm. An injury at the next vertebral level (the C6 vertebrae) may cause pain in the shoulder and the arm, and it may also cause weakness in the arm. And finally, an injury at the lowest level (the C7 vertebrae) may cause pain from the neck all the way down to the hand, along with weakness in the arm and hand.




Degenerative Disc Disease


Overview This condition is a weakening of one or more vertebral discs, which normally act as a cushion between the vertebrae. This condition can develop as a natural part of the aging process, but it may also result from injury to the back. Disc Wall Tears Degenerative disc disease typically begins when small tears appear in the disc wall, called the annulus. These tears can cause pain. Disc Wall Heals When the tears heal, creating scar tissue that is not as strong as the original disc wall. If the back is repeatedly injured, the process of tearing and scarring may continue, weakening the disc wall. Disc Center Weakens Over time, the nucleus (or center) of the disc becomes damaged and loses some of its water content. This center is called the pulposus, and its water content is needed to keep the disc functioning as a shock absorber for the spine. Nucleus Collapses Unable to act as a cushion, the nucleus collapses. The vertebrae above and below this damaged disc slide closer together. This improper alignment causes the facet joints - the areas where the vertebral bones touch - to twist into an unnatural position. Bone Spurs Form In time, this awkward positioning of the vertebrae may create bone spurs. If these spurs grow into the spinal canal, they may pinch the spinal cord and nerves (a condition called spinal stenosis). The site of the injury may be painful. Symptoms Some people experience pain, numbness or tingling in the legs. Strong pain tends to come and go. Bending, twisting and sitting may make the pain worse. Lying down relieves pressure on the spine.




Herniated Disc (Cervical)


Overview This condition is a rupture of one of the vertebral discs in your neck. A herniated disc can allow disc material to press harmfully against the spinal nerves. Anatomy Vertebral discs are tough, elastic pads that act as shock absorbers for the vertebrae. They cushion the vertebrae and allow the spine to twist and bend. Each disc has a tough, fibrous outer wall and soft inner nucleus. Herniation A herniated disc can result from the normal wear and tear of aging. It can be caused by heavy lifting or by sudden, damaging motions. It can also be caused by a traumatic spine injury. In a typical rupture, small cracks or tears form in the disc's outer wall. The soft material in the nucleus pushes through this weakened area. This disc material can bulge into the spinal canal. It can press against the spinal cord. It can also press against nerve roots. Symptoms A herniated cervical disc can cause pain when you turn your head or bend your neck. This pain may radiate down your arm to the hand. You may feel burning, tingling or numbing sensations in your shoulder, arm and hand. You may have muscle weakness. This may affect your grip strength. Treatment Treatment options for a herniated cervical disc may include rest and medications to control pain and swelling in the neck. Your healthcare provider may recommend a soft collar to support your neck. You may benefit from injections or physical therapy. If those options are not helpful, surgery may be needed to remove the bulging portion of your disc.




Herniated Discs


Overview A herniated disc is a common injury that can affect any part of the spine. A herniated disc can cause severe pain and other problems in the arms or legs. Disc Anatomy Vertebral discs are flexible, rubbery cushions that support the vertebral bones. They allow the spine to twist and bend. Each disc has a soft inner nucleus that is surrounded by a fibrous outer wall. Herniated Disc A herniated disc occurs when the nucleus pushes through the outer wall. This herniation can result in a large bulge that can press against nearby nerve roots. Causes Herniated discs commonly result from age-related weakening of the spinal discs. This is called disc degeneration, and it can occur gradually over many years as a result of normal wear and tear on the spine. A herniated disc can also result from a traumatic injury, or from lifting a heavy object improperly. Symptoms Symptoms of a herniated disc vary depending on the location of the disc and the severity of the rupture. Some herniated discs cause no symptoms, and a person with this type of injury may not realize the disc is damaged. But a herniated disc can also cause severe pain, numbness or tingling, and weakness. Most herniated discs occur in the lower back, where they can cause symptoms in the buttocks, legs and feet. Herniated discs also occur in the neck, where they can cause symptoms in the shoulders, arms and hands. Treatment Treatment options for herniated disc depend on the location and severity of the injury. A herniated disc may be treated with pain-relieving medications, muscle relaxers and corticosteroid injections. A person with a herniated disc may benefit from physical therapy. If these methods are not effective, the disc may need to be treated with a surgical procedure.




Lumbar Radiculopathy (Sciatica)


Overview This condition is an irritation or compression of one or more nerve roots in the lumbar spine. Because these nerves travel to the hips, buttocks, legs and feet, an injury in the lumbar spine can cause symptoms in these areas. Sciatica may result from a variety of problems with the bones and tissues of the lumbar spinal column. Causes (Herniated Disc) One common cause is a herniated disc. A herniated disc is a rupture in the fibrous outer wall of a vertebral disc, which allows the soft nucleus of the disc to bulge outward. This bulge can press harmfully against a nerve root. Causes (Degenerative Disc Disease) Another common cause of nerve root injury is degenerative disc disease. It occurs when a spinal disc weakens, allowing vertebral bones above and below the disc to shift out of position. The bones can touch, pinching nearby nerve roots. Causes (Spinal Stenosis) When bones, discs or joints of the spine degenerate, bony spurs may form and push into the spinal canal or foramen space. This is called spinal stenosis, and it can also create harmful pressure against the nerve roots.




Spinal Stenosis


Overview The spinal column contains open spaces that create passageways for the spinal cord and the spinal nerves. Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of (or an intrusion into) these openings. This can cause a compression of the nerves. Spinal stenosis most commonly affects the cervical and lumbar regions of the spine. Anatomy Each vertebra has a large opening at the rear called the spinal canal. In the cervical and thoracic regions of the spine, the spinal cord travels through this space. In the lumbar region of the spine, this opening contains a bundle of nerve roots. Openings called foramina branch away from the spinal canal. These spaces provide pathways for the nerve roots that travel from the spine to other parts of the body. Stenosis In a spine with stenosis, one or more of these openings are narrowed. The spinal nerves can become compressed against the vertebral bone. This can interfere with nerve function. It can cause pain in the spine or in other parts of the body. Causes Stenosis is commonly caused by an excess growth of bone around the spinal nerves. This excess bone growth often results from osteoarthritis. Stenosis can also result from a dislocation or a fracture of the vertebral bone. Stenosis can be caused by soft tissue intruding into the spine's open spaces. Herniated discs, tumors, and thickened spinal ligaments can press against the spinal nerves. And in some cases, a person is born with a small spinal canal that does not provide enough room for the spinal nerves. Symptoms Symptoms of spinal stenosis can vary depending on the location and severity of the problem. Spinal stenosis can cause pain, weakness, numbness and tingling in the arms and legs. Spinal stenosis in the lower back commonly causes sciatica, a sensation of burning pain that can travel through the buttocks and down the legs. Spinal stenosis can also cause problems with control of the bladder and bowels. Treatment Treatment options for spinal stenosis may include anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxants and medications to relieve pain. Steroid injections may be beneficial. A physician may also recommend physical therapy. If these methods are not effective, surgery may be needed to eliminate pressure on the nerves.




Facet Joint Syndrome


Overview This condition is a deterioration of the facet joints, which help stabilize the spine and limit excessive motion. The facet joints are lined with cartilage and are surrounded by a lubricating capsule that enables the vertebrae to bend and twist. Joint Damage Facet joint syndrome occurs when the facet joints become stressed and damaged. This damage can occur from everyday wear and tear, injury to the back or neck or because of degeneration of an intervertebral disc. Cartilage Loss The cartilage that covers the stressed facet joints gradually wears away. The joints become swollen and stiff. The vertebral bones rub directly against each other, which can lead to the growth of bone spurs along the edges of the facet joints. Symptoms (cervical) Pain from facet joint syndrome differs depending on which region of the spine is damaged. If the cervical, or upper spine is affected, pain may be felt in the neck, shoulders, and upper or middle back. The person may also experience headaches. Symptoms (lumbar) If the lumbar, or lower spine, is affected pain may be felt in the lower back, buttocks and back of the thigh. Treatment Facet joint syndrome is first treated conservatively with rest, ice, heat, anti-inflammatory medications, and physical therapy. In addition, facet joint blocks may be administered not only to diagnose facet joint pain but also to treat it. If non-surgical methods fail to relieve pain, a fa




Spinal Stenosis (Cervical)


Overview This problem affects the spinal nerves in your neck. It's a narrowing of the spinal canal. That's the space your spinal nerves travel through. In a healthy spine, the spinal canal protects these nerves. It keeps them free from injury. But with spinal stenosis, the spinal canal is too narrow, and your nerves get compressed. Causes Spinal stenosis can happen because of disease or injury. Your spinal canal can be narrowed by bone spurs, a bulging disc, or thickened ligaments. You may have a vertebral fracture. You may have a tumor or some other problem. Any of these can cause pressure on your spinal nerves. Symptoms Your symptoms depend on which nerves are involved, and how badly they're compressed. You can have pain. You can have numbness or weakness. You can have problems with balance and coordination. And, you can have problems with your bladder or bowels. Treatment Treatment options depend on your needs. Medications may help you. So can physical therapy. You may need to have surgery to make more space for your nerves. Your healthcare provider will create a plan that's right for you.




Spondylolisthesis


Overview This condition occurs when a lumbar vertebra slips out of place. It slides forward, distorting the shape of your spine. This may compress the nerves in the spinal canal. The nerves that exit the foramen (open spaces on the sides of your vertebrae) may also be compressed. These compressed nerves can cause pain and other problems. Common Causes Spondylolisthesis has a variety of causes. In children, it is often due to a birth defect in that area of the spine. Some people develop this condition because of an overuse injury called "spondylolysis." This is a stress fracture of the vertebral bone. In adults, arthritis and the loss of disc elasticity that results from aging are the most common causes of spondylolisthesis. Other Causes Less commonly, spondylolisthesis can result from a sudden injury that leads to a broken vertebra. Diseases or tumors that weaken the spine can also result in spondylolisthesis. Symptoms Symptoms vary from person to person. Many people who have this condition have no symptoms at all. If you do have symptoms, you may experience pain in your lower back. You may have hamstring spasms. Pain may spread down your leg to your foot. You may also have foot numbness and tingling. Treatment Treatment options depend on the severity of your condition. You may benefit from rest. Medications may relieve your pain. A back brace may also help. And, you may benefit from physical therapy. If those methods are not successful, you may benefit from a surgical procedure to reduce nerve compression or to stabilize your spine.




Thoracic Outlet Syndrome


Overview This is a label given to a group of disorders. In these disorders, nerves or blood vessels are compressed in the space between your collarbone and the underlying rib. This space is called the "thoracic outlet." Causes Thoracic outlet syndrome develops in many ways. The nerves and blood vessels in the thoracic outlet can be injured by physical trauma, such as from an auto accident. They can be injured by repetitive arm and shoulder movements, which may be related to your job or to a sport you play. These nerves and blood vessels can be compressed by a tumor or by a problem with the bones in that area. They can be affected by poor posture, and by changes your body experiences during pregnancy. In some people, the cause of thoracic outlet syndrome is not known. Symptoms Symptoms depend on what gets compressed. If it's your nerves, you may experience pain in your neck, shoulder, arm or hand. You may have numbness or tingling in your arm or your fingers. You may have a weak grip. If your blood vessels are compressed, your arm or hand may feel weak or cold. The skin of your hand may appear bluish. Your fingers may feel numb or tingly. Your arm may feel painful. It may swell. You may develop blood clots in your upper body. You may feel a throbbing lump under your skin near your collarbone. Treatment Treatment options depend on your specific needs. You may benefit from physical therapy. You may benefit from medications that control pain and inflammation, or from medications that control blood clots. If these are not effective, you may benefit from surgery to relieve compression in your thoracic outlet.




Where Does Lower Back Pain Begin?


Overview Lower back pain is a common problem that severely impacts the quality of your life. It can limit your ability to be active. It can cause you to miss work. Many different causes may lead to pain in your lower back. About the Lumbar Spine Let's learn about the structure of the lumbar spine to better understand back pain. Your lumbar spine is your lower back. There are five lumbar vertebrae. Between these vertebrae are discs. They cushion the bones and allow the spine to bend and twist. Spinal Nerves The spine protects the spinal nerves. These travel through a space called the spinal canal. Branches of spinal nerves exit the spine through spaces on both sides of the spine. Common Causes of Pain In many cases, back pain is caused by muscle or ligament strains. This can happen if you spend a day doing heavy lifting. But back pain can also be caused by compression of the spinal nerves. Herniated discs or bone growths caused by osteoarthritis can press against the nerves. Fractures of the spine can reduce the amount of space around them. This type of pain may not go away, even after weeks. Symptoms Symptoms of back pain can vary depending on the cause of your pain and the severity of your injury. You may have trouble bending or twisting your back. You may feel a dull ache or a stabbing pain. The pain may radiate down to one or both legs. It may cause weakness, numbness or tingling. Treatment Some types of back pain are treated with over-the-counter medications and ointments. Your healthcare provider may recommend prescription medications, cortisone injections or physical therapy. If these methods are not effective, you may benefit from surgery to correct a problem in your spine.




Where Does Neck Pain Begin?


Overview Neck pain is a common problem that severely impacts the quality of your life. It can limit your ability to be active. It can cause you to miss work. Many different causes may lead to pain in your neck. About the Cervical Spine Let's learn about the structure of the cervical spine to better understand neck pain. Your cervical spine is made up of seven cervical vertebrae. Between these vertebrae are discs. They cushion the bones and allow your neck to bend and twist. Spinal Cord and Nerves The spine protects your spinal cord, which travels through a space called the spinal canal. Branches of spinal nerves exit the spine through spaces on both sides of your spine. These travel down to your shoulders and arms. Common Causes of Pain In many cases, neck pain is muscle-related. Muscle tension, cramps and strains can all cause discomfort. Neck pain can also be caused by compression of the spinal nerves. Herniated discs or bone growths caused by osteoarthritis can press against the nerves. Fractures of the spine can reduce the amount of space around them. This type of pain may not go away, even after weeks. Symptoms Symptoms of neck pain can vary depending on the cause of your pain and the severity of your injury. You may have muscle spasms. You may have headaches. You may have trouble bending and rotating your neck. These symptoms may get worse with movement. Problems in the neck can also cause pain in your shoulders. It can cause tingling or weakness in your arm, and numbness in your arm or hand. Treatment Some types of neck pain are treated with over-the-counter medications and ointments. Your healthcare provider may recommend prescription medications, cortisone injections or physical therapy. You may benefit from a cervical collar. This stabilizes your neck. If these methods are not effective, you may benefit from surgery to correct a problem in your cervical spine.