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The 5 Most Common Chronic Spine Problems 2017-03-27T19:19:03+00:00

chronic spine problems

The 5 Most Common Chronic Spine Problems

While there is a large number of things that could go wrong with your spine, this article focuses on the five most common, chronic spine problems. Fortunately, some of these can be prevented, managed well, or at least you can slow down the rate of their getting worse.

Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD)

Aka spinal arthritis, spondylosis, vertebral degeneration, and osteoarthritis of the spine. Many names, indeed, for something that virtually all of us will experience to one degree or another. The discs between your spinal vertebrae get thinner with aging, and the corners of the vertebrae grow pointy “noses” called osteophytes or bone spurs. The extra growth of the spinal bones happens because the spine is trying to reach out and grab onto the adjacent vertebrae in an attempt to stabilize the spine to prevent further injury. Both the disc thinning and the vertebrae growing noses can narrow the little holes in the spine through which the spinal nerve roots from the spinal cord exit the spine; and the narrowing of these intervertebral foramina (IVFs) sometimes crowds or pinches the nerve roots, causing pain and possibly improper nerve stimulation to the organs and tissues they go to. Family genetics, lifestyle, spinal injuries, and obesity all contribute to the likelihood of your getting DDD, the most common chronic spine problem. There’s not much you can do about genetics, except with regard to a propensity to have acidic blood. There is mounting evidence that acidic blood promotes DDD, so it’s a good idea to eat and drink a diet that helps your blood stay neutral on the ph scale. Fruits, vegetables, less red meat, and dressings made of olive oil and vinegar are highly recommended. Regarding lifestyle, spinal injuries, and obesity, you certainly have some influence. Sleeping about eight hours per night is good for most people, and exercising at least 20 minutes a day for three to six days a week is very important to strengthen postural muscles which support the spine. If rock climbing, motocross racing, or skydiving is your passion, and you won’t stop, then you know you’re at risk of injury, and I hope you’re really good at it. Obesity is a tough one. Ask for help.

Disc Bulges and Disc Herniations

These usually cause pain even if the disc isn’t pushing on a spinal nerve root. A disc bulges outward when it is squeezed. This often happens while bending over forward and twisting your trunk to lift something in the morning. (Discs are more prone to injury after sleeping.) They look fat on an MRI and usually press on nerve roots. Low back disc bulges commonly cause sciatic pain, numbness, or tingling in the buttocks and down the legs. Herniations occur when the softer middle portion the disc (the nucleus pulposus) breaks through the outer, tougher portion of the disc. This bubble of disc nucleus material is seen outside the disc on MRI. Sports, overexertion and improper lifting, and automobile traumas are common causes of this chronic spine problem.

Abnormal Curves in the Spine

Adolescent scoliosis puts tension on the muscles and other soft tissues, bringing some aches and pains at a young age. Other abnormal curves occur over years of time and cause chronic spine problems. For example, most people lose some of the normal lordosis of the neck spine; the healthy, forward curve changes to a straight neck, putting pressure on soft tissues and starting the process of DDD. Other people may get a back that is curved too much forward or backward.

Neck Sprain (Whiplash) and Strain

Though in mild cases this is acute and heals well, it may become a chronic spine problem, if not treated properly. When your head is jerked around, like in a car crash, fall, or sports injury, the spinal joints can get sprained and strained. (Sprain refers to damage of the joints and ligaments; strain refers to muscles and tendons.) Like spraining your ankle, the ligaments and tendons attached to the spinal bones become stretched and inflamed. The inflammation causes pain, and the injured soft tissues need to be treated, rehabilitated, and strengthened. Uncomfortable ice therapy is your first treatment for a week or so. The process of healing can take six weeks to several months or years, depending on the severity of injury (thus fitting the term “chronic”) because these soft tissues have a low supply of blood.

Spinal Stenosis

A narrowed spinal canal or a narrowed IVF (a hole through which a nerve root exits the spine) is usually called stenosis. A narrow canal where the spinal cord rests inside the spine can rub and press on the cord, which may cause a variety of problems; the second type, foraminal stenosis, affects nerve roots that exit the spine. A few causes of stenosis are disc herniations, bulges, infections, arthritis, spondylolisthesis, and congenital, meaning you were born with it. It can be improved with physical treatments (such as chiropractic and physical therapy, but it often requires other remedies, such as anti-inflammatory medication, injections, or surgery. Unfortunately, sometimes there’s not much you can do for it, except reduce pain with meds and injections.

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Chronic Spine Problems

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