The spine is made up of 26 vertebrae, along with discs, nerves, joints, muscles, and other connective tissue. With all of those components, it’s no wonder that many people develop painful spine conditions.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common spinal disorders, what causes them, and how you can find relief.
The Scope of the Problem
“Oh, my aching back.”
It’s not just a phrase. It’s an epidemic.
According to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA), back pain caused by spine disorders is the leading cause of disability in the world. It causes people to miss work to the tune of 264 million lost days.
Here are a few more alarming stats from the ACA:
- 80% of people will deal with back pain in their lifetime
- Back pain is the 3rd most common reason for doctor’s visits
- Americans spend about $50 billion in back pain-related healthcare costs every year
- If you count lost wages, the figure is at least $100 billion
- Disability-related to lower back pain rose by 54% between 1990 and 2015 worldwide
All of those statistics add up to an enormous problem, but what causes spine problems?
The Anatomy of Spinal Conditions
In order to understand the cause of back pain, you need to have a basic understanding of spinal anatomy. The spinal cord is the vertical column of bones at the center of your back.
The spinal cord is divided into four sections:
- Cervical (neck)
- Thoracic (chest)
- Lumbar (lower back)
- Sacral (pelvis)
You will frequently see the sections referred to as C, T, L, and S. Each section contains vertebrae, which are numbered from the top. The first vertebra is C1 (Cervical 1), followed by C2, C3 on down until you finally reach S5 (Sacral 5).
Nerves run from a specific part of the spine to a corresponding area of the body. These nerves are responsible for sending signals throughout your body. If you sustain a serious spinal injury or nerve damage, you can experience pain, paralysis, sensory loss, loss of motor function, and numbness.
Of course, many people with spinal disorders never experience a traumatic injury. They just bent over to pick up a pencil or sneezed in the wrong direction.
What does cause spinal conditions? Let’s start with general causes. Then we’ll address specific spinal conditions.
What Causes Spinal Disorders?
There are many spine problems that can lead to debilitating pain. As we mentioned, the spine consists of bones, discs, joints, ligaments, nerves, and muscles. Any of these elements can become affected, leading to a host of other problems.
Sometimes, back pain is the results of degenerative conditions such as arthritis or infections, fractures, and even cancer. However, many spinal conditions are mechanical in nature.
Common causes of mechanical spinal disorders include:
- Sprained ligaments
- Strained muscles
- Muscle spasms
- Ruptured or bulging discs
- Disc degeneration
- Sports injuries
- Work injuries
- Repetitive injuries
- Pinched nerves (sciatic nerve)
Vertebral disorders can also be related to other health conditions such as kidney stones, kidney infections, blood clots, and bone loss (osteoporosis).
4 Types of Spinal Disorders
As we mentioned, there are degenerative spine and disc conditions as well as mechanical disorders. Here are 4 of the most common types of spine disease that we see.
1. Arthritis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
Overview: Osteoarthritis happens when the joints connecting your bones become inflamed. Arthritis can occur anywhere in the body, including the spine.
Causes: For most people, arthritis is caused by normal wear and tear of the joints as you age. Another common type of arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis in which the body’s immune system attacks the bones and joints.
However, there are nearly 100 different types of arthritis and rheumatic diseases.
- Joint pain & stiffness
- Swollen joints
- Limited movement
- Warmth or redness in the joint area
If you suffer from rheumatic diseases, you may have some of these symptoms, but also experience pain in supporting structures like the muscles, ligaments, and bones.
Treatment: Unfortunately, there is no “cure” for arthritis. Non-invasive treatment focuses on pain management and reducing inflammation. The first step may include over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and similar anti-inflammatories.
Moist heat (bath or shower) or a heating pad may also bring some relief, as well as braces or light massage.
If you have osteoarthritis, chiropractic techniques can help, including:
- Manipulating the soft tissue
- Exercises to stretch the joints
- Ultrasound therapy
- Cold laser therapy
- Infrared sauna
For severe cases of arthritis, the last option may be orthopedic surgery, including arthroscopy, spinal fusion, or joint replacement.
2. Osteoporosis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
Overview: Osteoporosis occurs when the bones begin to lose density. The term literally means “porous bones”. Bone loss affects more than 10 million Americans, including nearly half of women over age 50.
Causes: Age is the most common factor in developing osteoporosis. As you get older, bone mass is lost faster than it can be replaced. The bones become brittle as a result. Osteoporosis can lead to fractures, curving of the spinal cord, and limited mobility.
- Sex (Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis)
- Ethnicity (Caucasians and Asians have a higher risk)
- Family history
- Body frame (People with smaller frames have less bone mass)
- Changing hormone levels (Sex hormones, thyroid issues, glandular issues)
- Dietary factors (Low calcium intake, eating disorders)
- Medications (Oral and injectable steroid-based medications like prednisone and cortisone)
- Medical conditions (Celiac disease, IBS, kidney/liver disease, lupus, some cancers, multiple myeloma, rheumatoid arthritis)
- Lack of exercise
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Back pain (as the result of fractures or collapsed vertebra)
- Loss of height
- Stooped posture
- Bones that break easily
Treatment: The most common treatment for osteoporosis includes medications that can help reduce bone loss or even stimulate bone growth.
A chiropractor can also provide non-invasive treatment options including:
- Spinal manipulation
- Relaxation techniques
- Rehabilitative exercises
These techniques can increase your range of motion and keep you from falling, which often leads to spinal compression fractures.
3. Sciatica: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
Overview: Sciatica occurs when the discs that separate the vertebrae become worn down as a result of aging or injury. The soft center of the disc can begin to push outward, putting pressure on the nerves.
Cause: The sciatic nerve runs from your lower back, through your legs, and all the way down to your feet. Pressure from a bulging disc can cause severe pain along the entire length of the sciatic nerve. This is why you experience pain in your legs, as well as numbness or tingling in your feet.
- Age (Sciatica is most common in people 30–50)
- Excess weight
- Diabetes can cause nerve damage
- Heavy lifting or sitting for long periods of time
Treatment: Sciatica will often improve with rest and over-the-counter pain relievers. Cold compresses can also help, along with stretching exercises.
If that doesn’t work, medications like muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatories can help. Steroid injections, physical therapy, and acupuncture.
Chiropractic techniques may include:
- Ice/cold therapy
- Ultrasound therapy
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
- Spinal manipulation
These therapies are all designed to improve your body’s natural healing abilities.
4. Muscle, Tendon and Ligament Injuries: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments
Overview: Muscles and tendons are responsible for moving your skeleton. Ligaments are thick, fibrous tissue that connects the bones. Spinal sprains or strains can occur when too much force is applied, causing stretching or tearing.
Causes: We typically see these types of injuries related to sports like football, basketball, baseball, track, volleyball, gymnastics, or soccer.
You don’t have to be athletic to experience injuries, though. Spinal strains and sprains are often due to improper lifting or the result of prolonged or repetitive motions. A fall or sudden twist can also force a joint out of place.
- Pain that increases when you move
- Muscle spasms or cramping
- Decreased range of motion
- Difficulty walking, bending or standing
Treatment: Mild spinal strains or sprains usually only require “RICE” therapy (rest, ice, compression, and elevation). This is important, especially in the first 24 – 72 hours after the injury. Rehabilitation can take anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks, depending on the severity.
Chiropractic treatment may aid in your recovery as well. Treating strained ligaments or tendons requires stabilization to make sure your spine is in proper alignment. Ice therapy helps with inflammation and swelling, while heat therapy gets the blood flowing in order to promote healing.
We can also teach you proper methods for lifting and how to avoid injuries due to overuse, prolonged sitting or repetitive motions.
Severe tears may require surgery to repair the injury. If that is the case, chiropractic techniques may be applied as part of your rehabilitation and physical therapy.
Visit us to learn more information about chiropractic care for back pain.
Find Relief for Back Pain
You don’t have to live with back pain from spinal disorders. There are many conventional means to relieve symptoms and treat the underlying cause of spine conditions and injuries. Chiropractic therapy can also play a part in your treatment and recovery.
Whatever your back condition; know there are solutions that will allow you to live pain-free.
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