Damage to the nerves in the spine, usually caused by compression, is called radiculopathy. The two main varieties of radiculopathy are cervical (involving nerves near the neck) and lumbar (involving the nerves in the lower back), although less commonly, thoracic radiculopathy (involving the upper area of the back) can be identified.
The compression that causes radiculopathy can be the result of heavy weight on the area over time, or it can be from a sudden impact. Common complaints from this condition include pain or tingling in the area of, or extremities nearest to, the impacted nerve. Cervical radiculopathy will most often lead to pain in the shoulders, arms, and hands, while lumbar radiculopathy tends to lend itself to pain in the hips or legs. Problems associated with thoracic radiculopathy include chest pain and may be mistaken for other ailments common to that area. Severity of pain is mostly relative to the amount of damage done to the nerve.
Treatment of radiculopathy usually begins with medication or physical therapy. Your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medicine or an epidural steroid injection. Chiropractic treatment may also be recommended. If these conservative treatments don’t bring relief, laminectomy may be an option, during which a small portion of the bone covering the offending nerve is removed. A discectomy, which removes a portion of the disc compressing the nerve, may be another recommended surgery if one does not recover with conservative measures.
The thoracic area of the back is the upper spine, consisting of twelve vertebrae ranging from just below the neck to just above the hips. Localized pain or referred pain to the ribs or chest result from misalignment of any of these vertebrae. Depending on the location of the problem vertebrae (which are numbered top to bottom, T1 – T12), a patient can complain of asthma, heart conditions, gall bladder conditions, immunity resistance, acne, gastrointestinal issues or just about any other condition affecting the organ directly adjacent to that area of the spine. However, due to the importance of these organs, the thoracic cavity is well-guarded by the ribcage.
Intervertebral discs are thin fibers of tissue between vertebrae that are designed to keep those vertebrae from rubbing against one another. Although the discs are strong and absorbent, over time they can succumb to eventual wearing down due to natural causes. In spinal degeneration, a patient can experience progressive disc thinning, spur formation, and/or loss of bone mass. Without treatment, it is possible for the condition to become severe and lead to possible vertebrae collapse.
All people experience some degree of spinal degeneration, so the problem is usually not apparent until pain arises or a disc becomes herniated or pinched.
Scoliosis is a condition of the spine that causes it to curve rather than run straight down the back. The curvature can either occur with one curve in the pattern of a “C” or a double curve, in the pattern of an “S”. Congenital scoliosis can be diagnosed at birth, but often the condition is more noticeable around puberty when growth spurts make the curve more prolific. Neither boys nor girls are more prone to the condition, but scoliosis found in girls tends to need treatment more often due to the propensity of it worsening in the female spine. Although genetics and disease can play a role, the cause of scoliosis in an overwhelming number of cases is largely undetermined.
The construction of the human spine is organized in an efficient, compact design. Only a narrow space through the back is needed for a person’s spine to operate within normal limits. However, through time and with the assistance of gravity, the given space for the spine begins to narrow even further and become compacted. The pressure created in this situation can place undue pressure on the nerves found throughout the spine, a condition known as spinal stenosis. The pain that accompanies this condition varies upon the type of stenosis – cervical (located in the neck), or lumbar (lower back). Symptoms of cervical stenosis include numbness or weakness in the upper extremities, such as arms and hands or neck pain. In lumbar stenosis, the patient would experience numbness or weakness in the lower extremities, such as the legs and feet, along with back pain.
A condition involving general wearing down of the vertebrae (bones in the back), sometimes resulting in bone spurs, is broadly addressed as spondylosis. Spondylosis can occur in more than one vertebrae at a time.
The main cause of spondylosis is the aging process, as the most important indication of the condition is decomposition and dehydrating of the discs between vertebrae that occurs over time. Many patients with spondylosis do not experience any complaints, but of those who do, the most common are stiffness, tingling, or numbness in the area affected. Cervical spondylosis (occurring in the neck) and lumbar spondylosis (lower back) are reported more often than thoracic spondylosis (upper back.)
The treatment for spondylosis can depend on the type of spondylosis and the severity. Your doctor may prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, corticosteroids, muscle relaxers, or antidepressants. Some anti-seizure medications have also shown potential for dulling pain.
Spondylosis is degeneration of the discs while spondylitis is inflammation of the vertebral joints. Both spondylosis and spondylitis can be age-related.
A painful back condition affecting the vertebrae in the lower back is spondylolisthesis. This is a condition in which a vertebra from the lower lumbar or thoracic area slips out onto another vertebra under it. Because bone rubs on bone, a great deal of pain is associated with spondylolisthesis, along which other symptoms, such as back, buttock, or thigh discomfort, tenderness or stiffness in the lower back, or overall muscle tightness in the affected area. Although sometimes genetics or disease may cause spondylolisthesis, trauma is also a common culprit. The condition can be treated effectively to eliminate pain.