The backbone, commonly referred to as the spine, is a complex structure that plays a vital role in our body. It supports our weight, protects the spinal cord, and offers flexibility and movement. With such crucial tasks to perform, it’s no surprise that it can occasionally encounter problems. Let’s delve deep into understanding some of the most common ailments affecting our backbone.
Anatomy of the Backbone
Before diving into the ailments, let’s briefly discuss the anatomy of the backbone. The human spine consists of 33 vertebrae, which are individual bones stacked on top of each other. These are categorised into four regions:
- Cervical (Neck) Region: The top seven vertebrae.
- Thoracic (Mid-back) Region: The next 12 vertebrae, connected to the rib cage.
- Lumbar (Lower Back) Region: Five vertebrae.
- Sacral and Coccyx Region: The fused vertebrae forming the base of the spine.
Between these vertebrae are intervertebral discs, acting as cushions to absorb shocks and protect the bones. Ligaments, tendons, and muscles help stabilise and mobilise the spine.
1. Herniated Disc
A herniated disc occurs when the soft inner part of the intervertebral disc bulges out, putting pressure on nearby nerves. This can result in pain, numbness, or weakness, usually in the arms or legs. Common causes include age-related wear and tear, lifting heavy objects, or twisting movements.
- Localised back pain.
- Numbness or tingling in extremities.
- Weakness in muscles served by affected nerves.
Treatment: Physical therapy, medications, lifestyle changes, or, in severe cases, surgery.
2. Spinal Stenosis
As we age, our spine can undergo changes that lead to the narrowing of the spinal canal, a condition known as spinal stenosis. This narrowing can put pressure on the nerves that travel through the spine, leading to pain or discomfort.
- Pain or cramping in the legs when standing for extended periods or walking.
- Numbness, tingling, or weakness in limbs.
- Back pain.
Treatment: Physical therapy, medications, or possibly surgery to relieve the pressure.
Scoliosis is a condition where the spine curves to one side. While it’s more commonly diagnosed in children and adolescents, adults can also have scoliosis.
- Asymmetrical appearance, like one shoulder or hip being higher than the other.
- Uneven waist.
- One side of the ribcage being more prominent.
Treatment: Bracing for milder cases in growing children. Severe cases or those where the curvature is worsening might require surgery.
Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens bones, making them brittle and more likely to break. When it affects the vertebrae, it can lead to spinal fractures.
- Back pain, caused by a fractured or collapsed vertebra.
- Loss of height.
- Stooped posture.
Treatment: Medications to strengthen bones, a calcium-rich diet, weight-bearing exercises, and avoiding falls.
Often associated with ageing, spondylosis is the degeneration of the spine. It can be due to wear and tear over the years, and it affects the discs and joints of the neck or back.
- Pain and stiffness in the neck or lower back.
- Numbness or tingling in limbs.
- Muscle weakness.
Treatment: Pain relief through medications, physical therapy, or possibly surgical procedures.
In diagnosing and treating these ailments, consulting with a spine surgeon can be beneficial, especially for conditions that may require surgical intervention. Early detection and appropriate management are vital to maintain optimal spinal health and mitigate potential complications.