Components of the Spine

Vertebrae: Bones of the spine that provide support and protection to the spinal cord.

Facet joints: The points at which the bony extensions on the backs of the vertebrae are connected. These joints provide a mobile connection between the vertebrae and allow the spine to be somewhat flexible. These joints can be affected by arthritis, causing pain and stiffness.

Intervertebral disc: Large, round ligaments that connect the vertebrae. The soft inner portion of the disc is called the nucleus pulposus and acts as a shock absorber.

Nerve roots: The nerve roots carry information between the extremities and the brain. If the nerve roots are pinched, pain and numbness can result.
 

 

 

 

 

Scoliosis and spinal deformity: Scoliosis is the term used to describe an abnormal curvature of the spine from side to side. This condition can occur in children or teenagers, often for no known reason, or in older adults as the result of an injury or a degenerative condition such as arthritis. Surgery to correct scoliosis may be necessary, depending on the degree of the curve and on whether there is risk that the curve may worsen over time. Other types of spinal deformity include those caused by tumors, by fractures, or by congenital conditions in which a vertebra does not fully form or in which the vertebrae do not separate on one side.

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Lumbar disc herniation: Displacement of the disc material from between the bones of the lower spine. This condition can cause back pain and leg pain, numbness, and weakness. It may also cause loss of control of bowels, bladder, and legs.

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Cervical disc herniation: Displacement of the disc material from between the bones of the neck. This condition can cause neck pain and arm pain, numbness, and weakness. Depending on the size and location of the herniation, it may cause loss of control of bowels, bladder, and even the legs.

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Spinal stenosis: A condition in which there is not enough room in the spinal bony canal for the spinal cord, the nerve roots, or both. It can occur at a relatively young age in certain people who are born with small spinal canals. More often, it occurs in older people as the changes associated with wear-and-tear arthritis gradually decrease the size of the spinal canal. It causes back and leg pain that is worse with activity.

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Tumors: Abnormal enlargement and deterioration of the spine, which can be related to a relatively nonaggressive disease process localized in the spine, an aggressive disease process starting in the spine, or the spread of an aggressive disease (i.e., cancer) from other parts of the body to the spine. Tumors can cause spine pain from destruction of tissue and can also cause pain and weakness in the arms or legs if the spinal cord or the nerve roots are compressed.

 
 

Fractures: A fracture is a broken bone. Fractures in the spine occur in young people usually as a result of a high-energy accident (i.e., a fall from a height or a car wreck). In older people, especially postmenopausal women, fractures of the spine can result from low-energy injuries or even when there is no known injury. If the deformity around the fracture is large enough, fractures can cause local spine pain and can cause symptoms related to compression of the spinal cord or the nerve roots.

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Spinal instability: Spinal instability results when the vertebrae do not align properly. This instability may occur after an injury or as the result of a congenital or degenerative condition. In severe cases, one vertebra may slip forward over the vertebra below it; this condition is known as spondylolisthesis. Spinal instability can cause compression of the spinal cord and the nerve roots, resulting in pain and possible paralysis.

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Last Updated:10/4/03