Spine Conditions and Treatments
Low back pain is a leading cause of disability. It occurs in similar proportions in all cultures, interferes with quality of life and work performance, and is the most common reason for medical consultations. Few cases of back pain are due to specific causes; most cases are non-specific. Acute back pain is the most common presentation and is usually self-limiting, lasting less than three months regardless of treatment. Chronic back pain is a more difficult problem, which often has strong psychological overlay: work dissatisfaction, boredom, and a generous compensation system contribute to it. Among the diagnoses offered for chronic pain is fibromyalgia, an urban condition (the diagnosis is not made in rural settings) that does not differ materially from other instances of widespread chronic pain. Although disc protrusions detected on X-ray are often blamed, they rarely are responsible for the pain, and surgery is seldom successful at alleviating it. No single treatment is superior to others; patients prefer manipulative therapy, but studies have not demonstrated that it has any superiority over others. A WHO Advisory Panel has defined common outcome measures to be used to judge the efficacy of treatments for studies.
The spine is made up of your neck and backbone. It allows your body to bend and move freely. As you get older, it is normal to have aches and pains. But injury, poor posture, wear and tear or disease such as arthritis can damage the spine.
How Your Spine Works
A healthy spine supports your body and lets it move freely. It starts at the base of your skull (where the head and neck meet) and runs down your back to your tail bone. The spine forms three natural curves and divides into five sections.
In a healthy spine, all of the parts work together making it strong and flexible. Ligaments along the spine and muscles in the neck, back and stomach hold the bones in place and help your body move, twist and bend.
Understanding Spine Problems
There are many causes and types of back and neck problems. Birth defects and developmental changes, such as abnormal curving of the spine may cause problems. Aging can cause wear and tear on the discs and vertebrae, damaging the spine. A long history of smoking, trauma or strain from overuse, repetitive motion and poor posture also causes disc and bone problems.
Upper Spine (cervical) problems can cause neck pain that may shoot into the middle of your back and head or into your shoulders, chest, arms and hands.
Middle Spine (thoracic) problems can cause middle back pain that may shoot into your chest or down into your upper thighs.
Lower spine (lumbar) problems can cause low back pain that may shoot into your buttocks, down your legs and into your feet.
Common symptoms from spine problems range from muscle tension and pain to numbness or weakness in your arms or legs.
The most common symptoms include pain that may:
Appear suddenly, remain constant or come and go.
Stay in one place or radiate to other parts of the body, such as arms and hands or legs and feet.
Feel dull, burning or sharp and include weakness, numbness or tingling.
Surgery is rarely needed to treat back pain. Most cases of back pain resolve in a few weeks with nonsurgical treatments. These include changing daily activities, participating in physical therapy, taking medication, receiving pain medication injections and alternative therapies such as acupuncture and chiropractic treatments.
Changing Daily Activities
Making some changes in your daily activities can make your back or neck feel better. Your doctor may recommend that you:
- Lose weight and quit smoking.
- Learn how to reduce the stress on your back or neck when bending, twisting, sitting and walking.
- Limit certain activities such as lifting and twisting.
- Improve your posture when sleeping, sitting and standing.
- Use back supports to relieve pain and keep your spine balanced.
- Manage other health conditions such as diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
When nonsurgical treatments do not relieve your back or neck pain, your doctor may recommend surgery as the best option for you.
Some common surgical procedures include:
- Removing a portion of bone to widen a narrowed area of your vertebrae.
- Removing the herniated part of a disc that is pressing on a nerve.
- Removing an entire disc and fusing or locking the vertebrae together.
- Restoring a curved or twisted spinal column and then fusing or locking the corrected position in place.
- Fusing or locking slipped vertebrae together making the spine more stable.
- Replacing a damaged disc with an artificial disc.