The spine is one of the most complex and important systems in the human body. Treatment requires specialists with the knowledge and expertise to develop an effective treatment plan. At Boston Orthopaedic & Spine, our fellowship-trained, board-certified experts have advanced training and the skills to help you understand and treat your pain.
The spine is made up of a column of bones called vertebrae, which extends the length of the back to the neck. The spine plays an important role in posture and movement, and it also protects the spinal cord. Its intricate structure makes the back capable of incredible flexibility and strength.
- Spine consists of 33 vertebrae. There are 7 cervical (neck), 12 thoracic (chest region), 5 lumbar (lower back), 5 sacral (hip region), and 4 coccygeal (tailbone region) vertebrae.
- Vertebrae are held in place by muscles and strong connective tissue called ligaments.
- Most vertebrae have fibrous intervertebral disks between them to absorb shock and enable the spine to bend.
Common causes of back and neck pain treated at Boston Orthopaedic & Spine
Arthritis, or osteoarthritis, is loss of cartilage within a joint. While there are many other types of arthritis, including rheumatoid, psoriatic, septic, post-traumatic, and lupus, wear and tear osteoarthritis remains by far the most common. Arthritis symptoms can include swelling, tenderness, sharp pain, stiffness, and sometimes fever and chills.
Cervical myelopathy is caused by compression of the spinal cord through the narrowing of the cervical spinal canal. Symptoms of cervical myelopathy include weakness or clumsiness of the hands, fingers, or arms, stiffness in the neck, pain, and difficulty walking. Many patients will describe a change in their hand writing.
A compression fracture is damage to the bones of the spine (vertebrae) that cause them to collapse and alter the shape of the spine, often caused by osteoporosis. Gradually worsening pain, increased pain with activity, loss of height, pain relief when lying down, and deformity of the spine can all indicate a compression fracture.
Degenerative disc disease
Degenerative disc disease is the damage or deterioration of the spongy cushions between the bones of the spine (discs), causing chronic pain in the neck (cervical spine) or lower back (lumbar spine). Symptoms of degenerative disc disease include pain that may increase during movement of the neck or back.
Herniated discs (bulging discs)
Herniated disc is the bulging or rupture of an intervertebral disc (the spongy cushion between the vertebrae of the spine). When the outer ring of a disc becomes damaged or slips out of place, the inner portion may bulge out between the vertebrae, which is called a bulging disc.
In the case of a ruptured disc, the inner portion bursts open completely. Symptoms of a herniated disc depend on the location of the disc, but can include pain, numbness, or weakness. Treatment is rest, anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, and in come cases, surgery.
Radiculopathy occurs when one of the spinal nerve roots is compressed near the vertebrae (bones), causing damage or disturbance of nerve function. The condition is characterized by radiating pain or numbness along the course of the affected nerves.
Sciatica is radiating pain, tingling, or numbness in the back, buttock, back of the leg, and/or foot produced by pressure on the nerve roots that lead to the sciatic nerve. Many patients describe muscle cramping or sharp pains in the buttock and posterior leg. The condition usually heals itself, given sufficient time and rest. Approximately 80% to 90% of patients with sciatica get better over time without surgery, typically within several weeks.
Scoliosis is a curvature in the spine. Symptoms of scoliosis include uneven shoulders or waist, one hip appearing higher than the other, and/or one shoulder blade appearing more prominent than the other. This is commonly screened in adolescents but may also develop in the aging spine as the bones compress.
Spinal stenosis occurs when the spinal canal narrows, putting pressure on the nerve roots. The symptoms vary depending on which nerves are affected. Mild neck pain may occur, along with numbness or pain in the back, shoulders, arms, or legs. The limbs or hands may feel clumsy or uncoordinated. In more serious cases, bladder or bowel function can become impaired.
Fractures of the spine
Spine trauma occurs when there is severe injury to the spine or spinal cord often due to an accident or fall. Most can be managed with immobilization, pain medications, and rest. In some cases, surgery is required to stabilize the spine.
Spondylolisthesis is a condition in which one bone (vertebra) slides forward, out of position, over another vertebra in the spine. This commonly occurs in adolescents and can be associated with pain in the lower back and tightness in the hamstrings.