The spine is the skeletal structure that runs from the base of the skull to the tail bone and acts as protection for the spinal cord. The spine is a flexible tube made up of vertebra and discs through which the spinal cord travels, carrying nerve messages to the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and organs of the body. The spine is composed of four main sections: the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral segments. The fellowship-trained spine specialists at the MedStar Health Spine Center at Chevy Chase diagnose and treat a wide variety of complex spine conditions, such as structural problems, cysts and tumors, and conditions caused by traumatic injury.
Causes of Chronic Back Pain
Chronic back pain refers to pain that persists for six months or more. The pain can range from a dull, constant ache to sudden, sharp pain that makes it difficult to move. Chronic back pain may be caused by a variety of factors:
- Disc degeneration
- Herniated disc
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Spinal fractures
- Spinal stenosis
Discs are strong, pliable cushions that rest between the vertebrae of your spine, acting as shock absorbers that facilitate spinal movement. A herniated disc occurs when the outer wall of the disc ruptures and the gel-like substance from inside the disc leaks out and compresses the spinal cord or nerve roots.
Symptoms of a herniated disc include:
- Neck and lower back pain
- Radiating or shooting pain in the limbs on one side of the body
- Numbness of the limbs
- Muscle weakness and spasms
- Difficulty walking
Ruptured discs are caused by:
- Degeneration or aging of the spine
- Unhealthy lifestyle choices (obesity, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, etc.)
- A genetic predisposition
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal that leads to compression of the spinal cord or nerve roots.
Spinal stenosis may result in the following symptoms:
- Burning or cramping pain that runs down the lower back and into the legs and feet that is worsened with standing or walking.
- Weakness or numbness in the limbs or extremities.
- Radiculopathy, or radiating/shooting pain caused by compression of the nerves that originate from the spine (nerve root) due to disc herniation, degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis, bone spurs, or trauma.
Spondylolisthesis is the slippage of one vertebra over another. This condition most often occurs from degenerative changes. The severity of spondylolisthesis is categorized by various grades.
Symptoms of spondylolisthesis depend on the level of slippage. Slippage of one vertebra over another causes nerve compression, resulting in localized pain, radiating pain, tingling, numbness, or muscle weakness.
Spondylolysis is a fracture in the pars interarticularis, a small bony portion of a single vertebra that protects the nerve roots. It happens most often in the lumbar, or lower back, region. People can be born with this condition and it becomes symptomatic with aging. It can also be caused by a traumatic injury.
Symptoms of spondylolysis vary depending on the severity of the fracture. Some people may experience mild back pain, while others may experience debilitating pain. In extreme cases, one vertebra may slip over another causing nerve compression, which can lead to pain, tingling, numbness, or muscle weakness.
Make an Appointment
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