Spinal Problems

Spinal Problems Image

Spinal problems run a wide gamut, from a simple pulled muscle causing back pain to spinal cord injury leading to paralysis.

Most back problems do not involve the spinal cord, which is the bundle of nerves that runs from the base of your brain to the upper part of your lower back. The spinal cord controls your entire body, which is why spinal cord injury or disease can be so devastating.

It’s important to understand that your spine is different from your spinal cord. Your spine (also called the spinal column or vertebral column) runs from the base of your head to the tailbone. The spine consists of:

  • A set of bones (33 vertebrae, the sacrum and the coccyx)
  • Discs that separate the bones
  • Ligaments that connect the bones.

Your spine is designed to protect your spinal cord and support the weight of your body. Many strong, large muscles support the structure and function of the spine and back.

Common Spine Problems

Muscle strains and ligament sprains are a common source of everyday back pain. Whiplash is a combined strain-sprain injury of the neck and upper back.

Disc problems (such as herniated discs or bulging discs) are also common. However, research has shown that many people with herniated or bulging discs don’t experience any pain. Pain as a result of disc problems will only occur if the discs start to press on surrounding nerves, causing a pinched nerve.

Another spinal nerve problem, often associated with aging, is stenosis:

  • Spinal stenosis occurs when the spinal canal (the space in the vertebrae that houses the spinal cord) becomes narrowed, and the bones press on the spinal cord.
  • Foraminal stenosis occurs when the nerves leaving the spine at a particular vertebra are compressed in the opening of the vertebra (called the “foramen.”)

Spinal problems can also occur as a result of inappropriate curvature of the spine:

  • Excessive lordosis is an extreme inward curve of the lower back.
  • Kyphosis is an outward rounded curve of the upper back (this is also called “dowager’s hump,” as it is common in older women who have osteoporosis).
  • Scoliosis is a sideways curve of the spine.

The many other types of potential spine problems range from joint disease (osteoarthritis) to osteoporosis and spinal cord disease.

Causes of Spinal Problems

The reasons that spinal and back problems occur include:

  • Aging: The spine changes with age. This doesn’t always lead to spine problems, but degenerative changes can cause pressure on nerves and create back pain and other problems.
  • Disease: Osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and other diseases can affect the spine. In addition, spinal cord problems include diseases such as meningitis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
  • Lifestyle: Lack of good nutrition, lack of exercise, smoking, poor posture and other personal variables can increase one’s risk of developing spinal problems.
  • Trauma or injury: Potential scenarios range from a minor muscle pull or ligament strain from lifting an object or from repetitive stress to a serious spinal cord injury caused by a car or sports accident.


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Eidelson, S., MD. (n.d.). Spinal nerve disorders part 2: Common spinal disorders. Retrieved March 3, 2010, from http://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/sciatica/spinal-nerve-disorders

Eidelson, S., MD. (n.d.). Spinal fractures — Spondylolisthesis — Scoliosis — Kyphosis — Lordosis part 3: common spinal disorders. Retrieved March 3, 2010, from http://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/osteoporosis/spinal-fractures-spondylolisthesis-scoliosis

Spine Health staff. (n.d.). Understanding back problems. Retrieved March 3, 2010, from http://www.spine-health.com/conditions/pain/understanding-back-problems

University of Maryland Medical Center. (n.d.). A patient’s guide to anatomy and function of the spine. Retrieved March 1, 2010, from http://www.umm.edu/spinecenter/education/anatomy_and_function_of_the_spine.htm