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What Are the Most Common Spine Problems and How Can They Be Treated?

Robert Watkins IV';

By Robert Watkins IV

Posted on August 25th, 2020 in Spine

Some of the most frequently encountered problems in clinical medicine are disorders affecting the spine.

It is estimated that 80% of people in the United States will struggle with lower back pain at some point during their lifetime.

While some spine conditions can be successfully kept under control with medication, others need surgery as treatment.

The following are the most common spine problems we treat at Cedars Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital:

Adult Degenerative Scoliosis

Scoliosis is the abnormal curvature of the spine. While it is more prevalent among children and teenagers, adults can struggle with scoliosis as well. If scoliosis develops during adulthood, without the patient having a history of childhood curvature, it is usually referred to as adult degenerative scoliosis. The intensity of the symptoms of scoliosis highly depends on how severe the spine curvature is and may include the following:

  • spinal instability
  • rib prominence on either side
  • humpback
  • irregular gait
  • progressive back pain
  • nerve damage
  • heart and lungs problems
  • a collapsing feeling
  • trunk imbalance

The majority of adult scoliosis cases do not require surgery, as the condition can be kept under control without treatment or with medication such as anti-inflammatory drugs, as well as by performing back exercises for posture and strength on a daily basis. Nevertheless, surgery may be necessary if the pain increases over the years, the spine curvature is progressive or excessive, the patient experiences numbness or weakness or if the spine curvature causes heart or lung problems.

Cervical Disc Herniation

If you experience neck, shoulder and arm pain, the cause may be cervical disc herniation. Acting as the shock absorbers of the spine, intervertebral discs are located between each of the vertebrae. The symptoms of a herniated cervical disc include:

  • pain in the neck or between the shoulder blades
  • pain spreading down into the arm, hand or fingers
  • numbness of tingling in the shoulder or arm
  • pain that intensifies at night or with movement
  • muscle weakness
  • pain that worsens after standing or sitting for too long

When the outer band of the cervical disc cracks or breaks open, the gel inside of it can leak out, resulting in a herniated disc. The fluid may exert pressure on adjacent nerve roots or the spinal cord. A cervical disc herniation can occur suddenly, after injury to the area in question, or develop gradually, over several weeks or months. There are numerous treatment approaches for a herniated cervical disc in addition to surgery, such as:

  • anti-inflammatory medication
  • spinal injections
  • physical therapy
  • cold and heat therapy
  • muscle relaxers
  • chiropractic or alternative therapy

Surgery is only necessary if the discomfort the cervical herniated disc is causing you in your daily life is severe. If your symptoms do not alleviate within 6 weeks following treatment, your doctor may recommend you undergo surgery. During surgery, the vertebrae around the herniated disc will usually be fused together. However, there is also the possibility that the herniated disc will be replaced with an artificial implant.

Degenerative Spondylolisthesis

As a spinal condition that entails a vertebra slipping forward over the vertebra below, degenerative spondylolisthesis is a spine problem that usually occurs in the lower back. Degenerative spondylolisthesis is most common among women over the age of 60, as their bones begin to weaken. The symptoms of this spine condition include:

  • low back pain
  • sciatica
  • tight hamstring muscles
  • muscle spasms
  • irregular gait or limp
  • weakness in the legs

On the bright side, most cases of spondylolisthesis are treated without surgery, by using the following:

  • short-term bed rest
  • pain medication
  • steroid injections
  • anti-inflammatory medication
  • bracing
  • physical therapy
  • muscle relaxants
  • activity restriction
  • oral steroids

In the unfortunate case that your spondylolisthesis progresses or causes neurologic issues, such as incontinence, you will need to undergo surgery. The most common procedures for degenerative spondylolisthesis are spinal instrumentation, during which rods and screws are placed in your vertebrae, and fusion, during which your vertebrae will be merged together.

Cervical Stenosis

When either the spinal canal or the nerve passageways become narrow, cervical stenosis develops. It is a frequent cause of neck pain. It is worthy of note that some people are born with this condition, whereas others come to struggle with it during their lifetime. The most common cause of cervical stenosis is aging, but individuals with a history of neck injury or trauma are susceptible to developing it as well. Some of the symptoms of cervical stenosis are:

  • neck pain
  • hand clumsiness
  • gait and balance disturbances
  • weakness in your shoulders or arms
  • bladder and bowel problems
  • a burning sensation in your shoulders

To relieve the symptoms of cervical stenosis, the doctor may recommend you the following non-surgical treatments:

  • anti-inflammatory medication
  • physical therapy
  • cold and heat therapy
  • alternative therapy
  • muscle relaxants
  • narcotic painkillers

As for surgery, if your symptoms do not improve or cannot be kept under control with the treatment above, it may be recommended to you. There are multiple procedures to repair cervical stenosis, but the main purpose of all is to take the pressure off the spinal cord and nerve roots. During surgery, the parts that are causing the compression will be removed.

Osteoporosis

More than 44 million of people in the country are struggling with osteoporosis, a condition that is characterized by loss of bone density. While it affects every bone in the body, osteoporosis takes a heavy toll on the vertebrae of the spine. The condition is also known as fragile bone disease. The risk of a fracture is very high for individuals who suffer from osteoporosis. It is noteworthy that women are 4 times more likely to develop osteoporosis than men. The most common symptoms of this condition include:

  • back or neck pain
  • loss of height
  • a stooped posture
  • receding gums
  • weaker grip strength
  • brittle fingernails

There is no surgery for osteoporosis per se, but you may need to undergo surgery if you experience a fracture or a spine problem, such as cervical stenosis or a herniated disc, since you have a higher risk of developing these conditions when you have osteoporosis. Usually, the doctor will prescribe medication such as painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs to alleviate your symptoms.

Whiplash

When the soft tissue in the neck is injured, medical professionals refer to this as whiplash. It is not a serious spine condition, but it can cause the sufferer a lot of pain. The cause of whiplash may be the sudden extension or flexion of the neck, which often occurs as a consequence of a rear-end car crash. If the condition is severe, it will also affect the intervertebral joints, discs, ligaments, cervical muscles and nerve roots. While the primary symptom of whiplash is neck pain, the patient may also experience the following:

  • neck stiffness and tenderness
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • blurred vision
  • pain or numbness in the neck
  • difficulty swallowing and chewing

For the first 2 to 3 weeks following a whiplash, the patient will have to wear a soft cervical collar to keep the neck in place while the affected tissue is healing. However, there are additional treatments for whiplash, such as:

  • anti-inflammatory medication
  • muscle relaxants
  • physical therapy
  • cervical traction
  • trigger point injections
  • heat and cold therapy

Surgery for whiplash is rarely necessary, as the condition usually resolves itself within several weeks. Only if the symptoms fail to subside or worsen within 6 to 8 weeks after the incident you will need to undergo surgery.

Compression Fracture

Usually as a result of osteoporosis, compression fractures occur when a vertebral body collapses. People who struggle with osteoporosis are at high risk of fractures and even a minor fall can lead to severe injury. Every year, thousands of people in the United States experience a compression fracture. Nevertheless, many do not realize what happened, as they do not experience any pain. For this reason, it is a very good idea to seek medical attention if you struggle with osteoporosis and have recently sustained an injury. Left untreated, a compression fracture can lead to serious complications, such as spinal deformity and loss of the ability to function. The most common symptoms of a compression fracture are:

  • loss in height
  • humpback
  • loss of balance
  • numbness or weakness
  • pain in the back, arms or legs
  • trouble bending your body

The majority of compression fractures do not require surgery, as they can be effectively treated with pain-relieving medication, bracing and activity modification. Nonetheless, vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty, two similar surgical procedures, may be necessary after a compression fracture. The surgery involves injecting orthopaedic cement into the fracture.

Low Back Sprains and Strains

Pain in the low back is one of the most common medical complaints. While it can be caused by cervical stenosis or a herniated disc, the majority of patients come to struggle consequence of excessive flexion, lifting or carrying a heavy object and excessive extension. The pain may be so severe that the patient may be under the impression that they broke a bone in their spine. Nevertheless, the pain subsides within several days and disappears completely within 2 to 3 weeks. The symptoms of a low back sprain or strain include:

  • sharp pain
  • difficulty moving
  • stiffness
  • pain with movement
  • swelling
  • muscle spasms

Surgery is never necessary to treat a low back sprain or strain, as the problem resolves itself within several weeks. However, there are treatments that can help you experience less pain, such as pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medication. Physical therapy may also be recommended if you suffered a low back sprain or strain. It can involve ultrasound, massage, heat or ice packs and electrical stimulation.

Cervical Myelopathy

Cervical myelopathy is caused by spinal cord compression in the neck. Unfortunately, cervical myelopathy is a progressive disease that gradually damages the spinal cord and, consequently, there is no cure for it. Some of the symptoms of cervical myelopathy are:

  • a feeling of clumsiness in the hands
  • difficulty working with small objects
  • changes in handwriting
  • generalized numbness
  • imbalance during walking
  • frequent tripping

When the condition is severe, patients may also experience a sense of overall weakness in their arms and legs, as well as changes in their bowel and bladder habits. Surgery can only alleviate the condition and may be recommended to people with severe cases of cervical myelopathy. The main purpose of surgery is to take the pressure and compression off the spinal cord.

Undergo Spine Surgery at Cedars Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital

The surgeons at Cedars Sinai Marina del Rey Hospital specialize in spine surgery and will help you receive the most effective treatment for your condition. After a thorough evaluation, they will let you know whether you are a good candidate for spine surgery, depending mostly on the severity of your condition, as well as on your overall health. If you experience significant distress as a result of your spine condition, surgery may be the best treatment for you. It will increase your quality of life to a great extent, as you will no longer experience back pain. For additional information about spine surgery, please feel free to contact Marina del Rey Hospital and our medical staff will gladly answer all your questions and address all your concerns.