Back Pain & Injury Information

What is the basic anatomy of the spine?
The spine is made up of 24 individual bones, in addition to the sacrum, called vertebra. There are seven cervical, 12 thoracic and usually five lumbar vertebra. Excluding the first and second cervical vertebra, each vertebra is separated by a cushioned disk that acts as a joint for movement of the spine and has two cartilaginous joints on the back side of the spine held together by ligaments.
What are common causes of back injury?
The most common complaint of back pain is pain of the lower back. The most common diagnosis is degenerative back pain condition. Further, back pain is often caused by practicing poor body mechanics or as a result of injury. It is important to remember that back pain can be caused by countless circumstances and it is recommended patients experiencing mild back pain lasting an extended period should consult a physician.
What are proper body mechanics of the spine?
It is important to maintain proper body mechanics to reduce risk of back injury or pain. Body mechanics refers to the way we move and hold our bodies day to day. Utilizing proper body mechanics includes being aware of posture when standing, sitting, walking, sleeping, lifting, bending and running. To learn how you can use proper body mechanics, talk to your primary care physician or go online to a credible website.
What is degenerative back condition?
Degenerative spine conditions, the most common diagnosis for back pain, range in severity and are simply caused by pressure and tension the disks undergo as a result of life and aging. Disk degeneration usually begins in individuals at the age of 20 but this is not always symptomatic.
What is a compression fracture of the spine?
A compression fracture is a collapse of the vertebra. It is common among those who are involved in a traumatic accident and those with osteoporosis, a condition that causes thinning of the bone.
What are the symptoms of a compression fracture of the spine?
Back pain is the most common complaint by patients with a compression fracture. Patients with osteoporosis who sustain multiple compression fractures may begin to notice a curving of the spine, like a hunchback because the vertebrae are compressed in front and usually normal in back. This wedge shaped appearance causes the spine to curve forward. Patients with compression fractures also often notice a loss of height because of the decreased length of the spinal column.
How are compression fractures treated?
The best treatment is prevention. However, once someone suffers a compression fracture, treatment is aimed at alleviating the pain with medication, rest and a back brace. Most compression fractures heal within eight weeks. If these treatments are ineffective, a new non-surgical procedure called vertebroplasty may be performed. In rare cases, surgery may be needed.
What is vertebroplasty?
Vertebroplasty is a minimally invasive procedure used to treat painful vertebral compression fractures in the spine, most often the result of osteoporosis. Typically, vertebroplasty is recommended after less invasive treatments, such as bed rest, a back brace or pain medication, have been ineffective, or if medications cause undesired side effects. Vertebroplasty can immediately minimize pain and involves stabilizing the collapsed vertebra by injecting a specially formulated acrylic bone cement.
How do you prevent compression fractures?
The best way to prevent compression fractures is through exercise, sufficient calcium to guard against osteoporosis, and certain prescription medications.
What is spinal stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is narrowing of the spinal column that causes pressure on the spinal cord, or narrowing of the openings (called neural foramina) where spinal nerves leave the spinal column.
What causes spinal stenosis?
Spinal stenosis usually occurs as a person ages and the disks become drier and start to bulge. At the same time, the bones and ligaments of the spine can thicken or grow larger due to arthritis or long-term inflammation.

Spinal stenosis may also be caused by:
  • Arthritis of the spine, usually in middle-aged or elderly people.
  • Bone diseases, such as Paget’s disease and achondroplasia.
  • Defect or growth in the spine that was present from birth (congenital defect).
  • Herniated or slipped disks.
  • Injury that causes pressure on the nerve roots or the spinal cord.
  • Tumors in the spine.
What are the symptoms of spinal stenosis?
Symptoms include numbness, cramping, or pain in the back, buttocks, thighs or calves or in the neck, shoulders or arms. Someone with spinal stenosis may also experience weakness in part of an arm or leg. These symptoms often worsen over time.

Symptoms are more likely to be present or get worse when you stand or walk. They will often lessen or disappear when you sit down or lean forward. Most people with spinal stenosis can’t walk for a long period of time. More serious symptoms include difficulty or poor balance when walking and controlling urine or bowel movements.
How is spinal stenosis treated?
Most cases of spinal stenosis are treated with physical therapy, cold and heat therapy and mediation. In more serious cases, surgery may be needed.
What is a laminectomy?
Laminectomy is a surgical procedure often used to treat spinal stenosis. It is performed through an incision and involves removing the lamina, two small bones that make up a vertebra, and/or bone spurs. It relieves pressure on the spinal column or spinal nerves and associated pain.
What is spondylolisthesis?
Spondylolisthesis is a forward or backward slippage of one vertebra from the next vertebra. Spondylolisthesis can lead to a deformity of the spine as well as a narrowing of the spinal canal.
What causes spondylolisthesis?
Causes of spondylolisthesis include trauma, degenerative disease, tumors, and birth defects. There are five major types of lumbar spondylolisthesis.
  • Dysplastic spondylolisthesis: Dysplastic spondylolisthesis is caused by a defect in the formation of part of the vertebra, called the facet, which allows it to slip forward. This is congenital, a condition that a patient is born with.
  • Isthmic spondylolisthesis: In Isthmic spondylolisthesis, there is a defect in a portion of the vertebra called the pars interarticularis. If there is a defect without a slip, the patient has spondylolysis. Isthmic spondylolisthesis can be caused by repetitive trauma and is more common in athletes exposed to hyperextension motions including gymnasts, and football linemen.
  • Degenerative spondylolisthesis: Degenerative spondylolisthesis occurs due to arthritic changes in the joints of the vertebrae that result from cartilage degeneration. Degenerative spondylolisthesis is more common in older patients.
  • Traumatic spondylolisthesis: Traumatic spondylolisthesis is due to direct trauma or injury to the vertebrae. This can be caused by a fracture of the pedicle, lamina or facet joints that allows the front portion of the vertebra to slip forward.
  • Pathologic spondylolisthesis: Pathologic spondylolisthesis is caused by a defect in the bone caused by abnormal bone growth, such as a tumor.
What are the symptoms of spondylolisthesis?
The most common symptom of spondylolisthesis is lower back pain that usually worsens after exercise especially with extension of the lumbar spine. Other symptoms include tightness of the hamstrings and decreased range of motion of the lower back. Some patients can develop pain, numbness, tingling or weakness in the legs due to nerve compression. Severe compression of the nerves can cause loss of control of bowel or bladder function.
How is spondylolisthesis treated?
Most people with spondylolisthesis can be treated conservatively, with rest, physical therapy, epidural steroid injections or a hyperextension brace. Patients who don’t improve with conservative treatment may be candidates for surgery.
What are the risk factors for spondylolisthesis?
Risk factors for spondylolisthesis include a family history of back problems and history of repetitive trauma or hyperextension of the lower back or lumbar spine. Athletes such as gymnasts, weight lifters, and football linemen who have large forces applied to the spine during extension are at greater risk for developing isthmic spondylolisthesis.
How common is back surgery?
Most back pain will not result in surgery. There are many ways to treat back pain and while surgery is sometimes necessary, many options are available otherwise. When surgery is considered, minimally invasive treatments are available.
What treatments are available for spine/back pain?
Back injury and pain can be treated in several different ways depending on the cause of the back pain as well as condition and location of the affected area. Below is a list of ways a doctor may advise to treat different conditions.
  • Rest and proper body mechanics
  • Medications (over-the-counter and/or prescription)
  • Physical treatments – exercise, stretching, therapy, chiropractic, massage
  • Bracing
  • Injective management – nerve blocks, epidurals, spinal joint injections
  • Surgery
What are spinal fusions?
Spinal fusion is a surgical procedure used to correct problems with the small bones of the spine (vertebrae). It is essentially a "welding" process. The basic idea is to fuse together the painful vertebrae so that they heal into a single, solid bone.
Will my range of motion be affected after a spinal fusion?
A spinal fusion eliminates motion between vertebrae and prevents the stretching of nerves and surrounding ligaments and muscles. It is an option when motion is the source of pain, such as movement that occurs in a part of the spine that is arthritic. The theory is if the painful vertebrae do not move, they should not hurt. Fusion will take away some spinal flexibility, but most spinal fusions involve only small segments of the spine and do not significantly limit motion.
What are the risks of back injuries/pain?
Not all back pain is a result of a serious medical condition. Many times, back pain will resolve spontaneously as a result of natural healing. However, if it is persisting beyond a couple of weeks, it is recommended to seek medical evaluation. A person should see a physician immediately if experiencing progressive numbness, tingling, difficulty walking, or loss of bowel/bladder control. Permanent damage can occur if these symptoms are not addressed in a timely manner.
Can back pain be prevented?
Learning and practicing proper body mechanics can decrease your risk for back injury and pain. Exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can also prevent or reduce back pain as well as build muscle strength and increase spinal flexibility.
  • How to improve proper body mechanics: maintain a tall back while standing and sitting. When lifting an object(s), lift with the knees, not the back. It is important not to bend to the side or twist when lifting.
Recovering from back pain?
Most back pain recovers spontaneously. If it does not, medical evaluation and treatment should be sought to assist in guiding one through a range of customized treatments including medications, therapy, injections and possibly surgery.
What are the symptoms of back injury?
Symptoms can include pain isolated to the back but also pain radiating from the back to the legs. There can be difficulty with movement due to stiffness and/or pain, spasm may be encountered in the muscles, numbness, tingling and weakness of the muscles may be noted. If numbness or weakness are progressive or loss of bowel/bladder control occurs, seek immediate medical attention.
What should I do if I am experiencing back pain?
In many cases, back pain will go away after only a few days or weeks. Rest and taking it easy can often ease non-severe back pain. When back pain does not subside after several days, the patient should see a doctor for evaluation and treatment.
How long does back pain last?
Most people will experience back pain at some point in their lifetime. Generally back pain lasts between several days to a few weeks and can be helped with light activity as tolerated, and over-the-counter analgesics. If back pain persists for an extended period, a doctor should be consulted for evaluation.
What is a herniated disk?
An intervertebral disk is composed of an outer fibrous ring and a softer nuclear core. A herniated disk is diagnosed when, as a result of aging or injury, cracks develop in the outer fibrous ring. These cracks allow the nuclear contents under pressure to extrude or spit outside the fibrous ring, possibly causing mechanical and/or chemical irritation of the nerves leading to pain, numbness and/or weakness.
What is a discectomy?
Discectomy is surgery to remove herniated disc material that is pressing on a nerve root or the spinal cord.
What is a prolapsed disk?
A prolapsed disk occurs when the nuclear material in the center of a disk pushes partway into the outer fibrous ring of the disk causing it to bulge. This may or may not produce pain.
What is a bulging disk?
A bulging disk is a non-medical term commonly used to refer to a prolapsed disk.
What is a slipped disk?
A slipped disk is a non-medical term and is non-specific. It is used to refer to a variety of disk problems.