Arthritis describes many different diseases that can cause pain, swelling, tenderness, and stiffness in the joints. Most forms of arthritis can occur in any joint, including spinal joints. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis within the spine, and is also often referred to as degenerative joint disease.
Bone spurs develop as a result of deteriorating changes to bone tissue. As we age, the cartilage between joints breaks down, and our body attempts to repair the loss, resulting in the creation of new areas of bone along the edges of the weakened region. This new growth may lead to painful compression. Bone spurs often signify other conditions, including: osteoarthritis, spondylosis, spinal stenosis, and aging.
A bulging disc occurs when the soft, jelly-like center of the spinal disc swells outside of the space it should normally occupy between the vertebrae, but does not rupture. It is possible to have a bulging disc without experiencing any symptoms. While a bulging disc is generally considered a normal part of aging, it can become serious when it bulges enough to result in narrowing of the spinal canal.
Cauda Equina Syndrome
Cauda equina syndrome is a relatively rare, but serious neurological condition that can lead to altered sensations in the lower extremities, incontinence, lower back pain, or sharp pain in the legs. Cauda equina syndrome is caused by the compression of nerves within the lumbar region of the spine, resulting in a narrowing of the spinal canal. Testing is necessary for a proper diagnosis, and the condition may require immediate surgical intervention.
Cervical radiculopathy describes pain and neurological symptoms resulting from any type of condition that may irritate a nerve along the cervical spine (neck). Symptoms will depend primarily on which nerve is affected within the neck.
Degenerative Disc Disease
Disc degeneration is a naturally occurring process as we age. As this occurs, the spinal discs can lose their water content, becoming brittle and losing their resiliency. The vertebrae, in turn, can compress the space that is normally occupied by the disc. In some cases, this can affect the nerve roots that are along the spinal column, resulting in pain. Degenerative disc disease often occurs in the discs in the lower back and neck, however it can take place throughout the spine. Along with the normal aging process, poor posture and incorrect body movements can also weaken the discs, resulting in disc degeneration.
Herniated (Ruptured) Disc
A herniated disc occurs when the tough, outer layer of cartilage along the spine (annulus fibrosis) tears and allows the cushion-like pads between the vertebrae (nucleus pulposus) to protrude out of the outer tissue, creating a “herniated” or “ruptured” disc. Unusual sensations such as tingling, numbness, or “pins and needles” may be experienced. Herniated Discs are a relatively common condition that can occur anywhere along the spine, however most often it affects the lower back or neck region.
Kyphosis is a forward curvature of the back. While some rounding is considered normal, kyphosis is generally referred to as an exaggerated rounding of the back, often referred to as “hunched back.” This is commonly seen in older women, as a result of osteoporosis.
Lower Back Pain
Low back pain affects 4 out of 5 adults throughout their lifetime. Almost half of patients who suffer from lower back pain will have a recurrence within a year. Lower back pain can be caused by a variety of problems in the lumbar spine.
Myelopathy, also referred to as spinal cord compression, is one of the most common causes of cervical or neck pain in people over the age of 55. Pain that is associated with myelopathy may be due to problems in the vertebrae and facet joints of the spine, as well as within the muscles, ligaments and nerves of the spine.
Osteoporosis is a disease of the bones that cause bone loss and weakness. This can weaken the spine, affect posture and height, cause back pain, and potentially lead to spinal fractures or spinal compression. Medications, healthy diet and weight-bearing exercise can help prevent bone loss or strengthen already weakened bones.
Sciatica refers to the pain that begins in the hip and buttocks and continues into the leg, indicating that the sciatic nerve is the cause of the discomfort. The term sciatica is not a medical diagnosis, but a symptom of an underlying medical condition. Conditions that may result in sciatica include herniated discs, degenerative disc disease, or spinal stenosis.
Scoliosis is a descriptive term that refers to an abnormal side-to-side (lateral) curve in the spinal column. While the vertebrae of a healthy spine should form a straight line, a spinal curve may develop as a single curve or as two curves. In youth, scoliosis often does not have any noticeable symptoms, and can go unnoticed if the case is mild.
A spinal fracture occurs when a vertebrae within the spine breaks or collapses. This can be as a result of trauma, injury, or commonly from bones becoming weak due to osteoporosis. Depending on the severity of the fracture, symptoms can include pain, trouble walking, or paralysis of upper or lower extremities.
Spinal Stenosis is a condition that is caused by a narrowing of the bones that make up the spine, when there is not enough room in the spinal canal for the spinal nerves. This can happen as a result of the degeneration of both the intervertebral discs and facet joints. Potential symptoms may include a deep aching in the lower back, buttocks and thighs; or intense numbness or pain in the legs and occasionally shoulders.
While a spinal tumor is relatively rare, the presence of a tumor along the spinal area is extremely serious. A tumor in the spine can cause pressure on the nerves in the spine, causing pain. Other common symptoms include sensory changes, motor problems, muscle weakness, incontinence and muscle spasms.
Spondylolisthesis (abnormal alignment of the spine)
Spondylolisthesis is an abnormal alignment of the spine, occurring when one vertebra slides forward onto the vertebrae below it. Most often this occurs in the lower spine and in some cases may lead to the spinal cord or nerve roots being squeezed. Typical symptoms of spondylolisthesis include back pain and/or leg pain.
Spondylosis (spinal osteoarthritis)
Spondylosis is a term used to describe degenerative changes in the spine, and is frequently referred to as spinal osteoarthritis. Spondylosis can occur in the neck, upper and mid back, and lower back. As the cartilage around the spine joints begin to wear, this causes the bones in the joint to rub together, producing inflammation and pain. This can lead to loss in flexibility, irritated nerves, bone spurs, spinal stenosis, and sciatica.
The information on this page is for general education only and is designed to facilitate discussion with your doctor. You should always talk to your health care professional for diagnosis and treatment.