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Spine Pain

What is Spine Pain?

Back Pain in SpineSpine pain or back pain occurs when any of the spinal structures become irritated, strained, injured, or degenerate over time. While there are countless causes of spine pain or back pain, it is important to note that back pain itself is not a diagnosis but rather a symptom or indication of another medical condition.

Anatomy of the Spine

Multiple structures make up the spine, which is designed to be strong, flexible, protective, and allow for mobility. Damage or irritation to any one of these structures can lead to back pain.

In order to understand spine pain, here is a closer look at spinal anatomy:

The spine is comprised of 30 bones or vertebra stacked in a column, each separated by a spinal disc. Together, they hold up the spine, while joints between the vertebrae allow one to tilt, turn, bend, twist, rotate, and flex at the neck and waist.

Going from the top to the bottom, the four major regions of the spine which can lead to back pain are:

  • Cervical Spine (neck)
  • Thoracic Spine (upper back)
  • Lumbar Spine (lower back)
  • Sacrum Coccyx (tailbone)

Back Pain and Spinal Discs

The vertebral discs of the spine act as shock absorbers between adjacent vertebrae and as ligaments which hold the vertebrae together and allow for slight mobility of the spine. Each disc is made up of two parts: A tough exterior and a soft, gel-like inner core. There are 23 spinal discs, and problems with any one of them – such as disk degeneration, a herniated disk, or a pinched nerve – can lead to back pain, neck pain, and other spine pain conditions.

Back Muscles Supporting the Spine

A large group of muscles also work to support the spine, holding the body upright while allowing the trunk of the body to move, bend, and twist in various directions The muscles attached to the spine are:

  • Extensor muscles at the back of the spine (posterior)
  • Flexor muscles at the front of the spine (anterior)
  • Oblique muscles at the sides of the spine

Irritation, inflammation, or injury to any of these muscles or to the facet joints of the spine can cause spine pain and significantly limit motion. Similarly, muscle atrophy or weak muscles are less able to uphold the spine, causing back pain.

Causes of Spine Pain

Medical conditions or problems which lead to spinal pain include:

  • Intervertebral disc degeneration
  • Herniated (ruptured) disc
  • Wear & tear of the facet joints
  • Muscle strain or spasm
  • Spinal injuries (sprains, fractures, falls, or whiplash)
  • Conditions/diseases which contribute to back pain, i.e. scoliosis, sciatica, arthritis, spondylolis (osteoarthritis), spinal stenosis, osteoporosis, kidney stones, infections, tumors, pregnancy, endometriosis, fibromyalgia
  • Stress
  • Heavy physical workload
  • Awkward bending or twisting
  •  Poor posture

Spine Pain Symptoms

Spine pain can be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term), localized or may radiate. The range of spine pain symptoms include:

  • Persistent pain
  • Dull pain
  • Sudden, sharp pain
  • Localized pain (at the neck, upper back, or lower back)
  • Pain that radiates to the shoulders, arms, lower back, buttocks, legs, and feet
  • Pain which limits/prohibits everyday activities
  • Weakness
  • Tingling
  • Numbness

Spine Pain Risk Factors

The following factors increase the risk of experiencing back pain:

  • Age (middle-aged or older)
  • Family history of back pain
  • Previous back injury/fracture
  • Previous back surgery
  • Spinal problems from birth
  • Pregnancy
  • Lack of regular exercise
  • Prolonged sitting
  • Poor Posture
  • Heavy lifting
  • Certain repetitive motions (i.e. playing racket sports, pitching)
  • Smoking
  • Being overweight
  • Emotional stress

Spine Pain Treatment

Fortunately, most cases of spinal pain can be treated without surgical intervention and with short-term rest and medication to reduce pain and inflammation. Additional interventions to help treat and heal spine pain include:

  • Ice (cold packs)
  • Heat
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Cortisone injections
  • Cervical collar
  • Cervical traction
  • Physical Therapy
  • Ultrasound
  • Exercises which build strength, stability, improve balance, and increase range of motion
  • Posture correction
  • Relaxation techniques

While rare, severe cases of spine pain which do not respond to conventional treatments may require surgery.