Common Causes Of Pain


The spinal column is one of the most vital parts of the human body, supporting our trunks and making all of our movements possible. When the spine is injured and its function is impaired the consequences can be painful and even disabling.

The spine has three major components:
• The spinal column (i.e., bones and discs)
• Neural elements (i.e., the spinal cord and nerve roots)
• Supporting structures (e.g., muscles and ligaments)

 The spinal column consists of:
• Sevencervical vertebrae (C1–C7) i.e. neck
• Twelvethoracic vertebrae (T1–T12) i.e. upper back
• Fivelumbar vertebrae (L1–L5) i.e. lower back
• Five bones (that are joined or "fused," together in adults) to form the bonysacrum
• And three to five bones fused together to form the coccyxor tailbone.

The lumbar vertebrae L1-L5, are most frequently involved in back pain because these vertebrae carry the most amount of body weight and are subject to the largest forces and stresses along the spine. The true spinal cord ends at approximately the L1 level, where it divides into many different nerve roots that travel to the lower body and legs-- called the "cauda equina.”
The anatomy of the spinal column is extremely well designed to serve many functions. All of the elements of the spinal column and vertebrae serve the purpose of protecting the spinal cord, which provides communication to the brain, mobility and sensation in the body through the complex interaction of bones, ligaments and muscle structures of the back and the nerves that surround it. The back is also the powerhouse for the entire body, supporting our trunks and making all of the movements of our head, arms, and legs possible

Intervertebral Discs
Lumbar Discs are the structures, which serve as shock absorbers between the vertebrae of the spinal column. The center of the disc, called the nucleus is soft and springy and accepts the shock of standing, walking, running, etc. The outer part, called the annulus, provides structure and strength to the disc.

The discs receive their blood supply through movement as they soak up nutrients. The discs expand while at rest allowing them to soak up nutrient rich fluid. When this process is inhibited through repetitive movement, injury or poor posture, the discs become thinner and more prone to injury. This may be a cause of the gradual degeneration of the structure and function of the disc over time.

Facet Joints
Joints between the bones in our spine are what allow us to bend backward and forward and twist and turn. Each vertebra has facet joints that connect it with the vertebrae above and the vertebrae below. The surfaces of the facet joints are covered with smooth cartilage that help these parts of the vertebral bodies glide smoothly on each other.

Spinal Cord
The spinal cord is part of the central nervous system of the human body. It is a vital pathway that conducts electrical signals from the brain to the rest of the body through individual nerve fibers.


There are more than 30 causes of pain, the commonest are:
Prolapsed Intervertebral Disc
Degenerative Disc Disease/ Lumbar Canal Stenosis
      - Scoliosis
      - Spondylolisthesis
Cervical Stenosis and Myelopathy
      - Tuberculosis
      - Pyogenic
      - Secondaries of Spine
      - Haemangiomas

Back pain is a Symptom and can be caused by a variety of reasons:-
-> Sedentary inactive living styles
-> Poor posture
-> Improper body mechanics - Over Weight
-> Stressful living situations and poor working habits
-> Wear and tear - ageing process

Back pain sufferers: avoid these 6 Common Mistakes
If you have back pain, make sure you’re not making your situation worse with the following common mistakes:
Mistake #1:Ignoring your pain for too long
While it’s true that low back pain usually gets better within a few weeks, this doesn’t mean that you should ignore it. Pay attention to the pain and go to spine specialist to get a diagnosis and treatment plan. With a correct diagnosis, you can start an appropriate exercise regimen that will minimize future pain.

Mistake #2:Relying on your GP for too long
Primary care physicians and general practitioners don’t have in-depth training in spine medicine, so it may be harder to get an accurate diagnosis and/or treatment plan. If your back pain is severe and lasts for more than a couple of weeks, I recommend going to a spine specialist. Doing this sooner rather than later could help save you a lot of time, money and frustration in finding some pain relief.

Mistake #3:Jumping to surgery too quickly
for many, it’s tempting to view spine surgery as a “quick fix”. However, with a few exceptions, it is typically recommended to try non-surgical treatment for at least 4 to 6 weeks before considering surgery. While surgery can fix a specific anatomical problem, such as a disc pressing on a nerve, the only way to completely heal is through a sustained exercise and rehabilitation program. Even with surgery, you’ll need to exercise. Remember, Surgery should be the last option in treatment for your Back pain

Mistake #4:Postponing back surgery for too long
On the other hand, for certain conditions patients tend to do better if they have surgery sooner. For example, when there is arm or leg pain and weakness because a nerve root is pinched, it is often best to take pressure off the nerve root through surgery sooner to avoid developing nerve problems.

Mistake #5:Focusing on the MRI results
Time and again people e-mail me about their MRI scan results. But this does not mean there is a problem. In fact, you may have terrible pain and an MRI scan that shows a normal-looking spine, or you may have an MRI that shows a large herniated disc yet have no pain. You need the full clinical diagnosis, and don’t focus too much on just the MRI results. It is wiser to treat patients than MRI scans.

Mistake #6:Bed Rest Isn't Best
I hear about most often: people with back pain staying still in the bed to avoid aggravating the back and triggering painful episodes. In older times long bed rest was recommended, but present day only a short period of rest is recommended, followed by stretching and strengthening exercises. Prolonged lack of activity will in fact lead to wasting of muscles and more pain. Keeping your back and supporting structures flexible and strong means that they can better support your spine, hasten the healing process and minimize the chance of future pain or injury. The abdominal and back muscles don’t get much exercise from everyday activities and need specific exercises.

Most importantly, back pain is different for everyone, so trust yourself, and get educated about your situation, so you have the best chance of getting better quickly.


The cervical spine consists of the top 7 vertebrae of the spine. Doctors often refer to these vertebrae as C1 - C7, with the "C" indicating cervical, and the numbers 1-7 indicating the level of the vertebrae. C1 is closest to the skull, while C7 is closest to the thoracic (chest/rib cage) region of the spine.

The cervical spine is particularly susceptible to degenerative problems because of:
• its large range of motion
• Somewhat complex anatomy.

Symptoms include, neck pain, pain around the back of the shoulder blades, arm complaints (pain, numbness or weakness), and rarely, difficulty with hand dexterity or walking. Symptoms are commonly described as a soreness or stiffness of the neck, which may or may not be associated with a minor injury. Patients often attribute this to a "cold wind" or "sleeping wrong" that may or may not be a factor. Muscle strains tend to improve within a week or so. However, if the pain persists longer, call your doctor, as it may be another condition that needs medical treatment.

Cervical disk herniations are more characteristic in the young (less than forty-years old), while cervical spondylosis(degeneration) and stenosis are typically found in older patients. The degenerative process may begin in any of the joints in the cervical spine, and over time it may also cause secondary changes in the other joints

Symptoms may include:
• Neck soreness on one or both sides
• Burning pain
• Tingling sensations
• Stiffness
• Pain around the shoulder blades
• Arm complaints (pain, numbness or weakness)
• Pain that moves around your body (for instance, down an arm)
• Trouble walking or writing
• Trouble swallowing or talking
• Headache
• Dizziness
• Nausea
• Blurred vision
• Fever
• Night sweats
• Tiredness
• Unintentional weight loss
It is important to treat your neck pain properly. Seek medical attention if your neck pain persists - and seek immediate attention if you have any of the emergency signs listed in the red box below.

Neck pain is one of the symptoms of meningitis, a relatively rare but very serious contagious infection. You need urgent medical care if you have neck pain with:
• High fever
• Sensitivity to light
• Irritability
• Severe tenderness with neck movement

Neck pain can also be due to injury. A severe neck injury could be life-threatening. You may need emergency medical treatment if you have neck pain with:
• Numbness
• Weakness
• Tingling symptoms
The image above is a general illustration of the spine and is not an exact replica of the cervical spine.

Common causes of neck pain
Cervical Stenosis
When disc degenerates, the normal relationships of the bones are lost and there is a condition of instability- one vertebra moving in an abnormal manner in relation to the next vertebra. In an attempt to stabilize, new bone grows outward - osteophytes. Osteophytes can be found near the disc spaces and around the facet joints. If they grow in areas where nerves or the spinal cord are nearby, they can impinge or compress these structures. This can cause pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness to varying degrees. If significant enough to cause nerve dysfunction, it is known as cervical stenosis.

Cervical Disc Herniation
is more or so like the disc prolapse/herniation in the lower back. In the process of sustaining increased mechanical loads, the outer aspect of the disc, known as the annulus becomes stressed and with time, small tears can form in it. The gel center, known as the nucleus, can be ejected from the disc through an annular tear. This is called a disc herniation. If the disc herniates in the direction of the spinal cord or nerve root, it can cause neurologic compromise. Disc herniations in the cervical spine can be serious. If significant enough, they can cause paralysis of both the upper and lower extremities, though this is extremely rare.

In most cases, a patient complains of neck pain associated with radiating pain to one arm. This is caused by compression of a nerve root. With time some herniated discs resolves or shrinks. Sometimes, disc herniations can persist, causing prolonged symptoms and neurologic problems, which may lead to surgical considerations

Cervical Spondylosis<
It is really nothing more than a description of what happens to the vast majority of our cervical spines as we get older. It is known that a high percentage of patients without any neck pain or other symptoms have spondylosis of the spine. In some people, however, spondylosis may be associated with neck pain. Spondylosis is likely the end result of disc degeneration that has been present for a very long time.

Diagnosing the Problem
A neurologic examination will be done to rule out a neurologic deficit. A shoulder examination will also probably be done to ensure that the symptoms are indeed originating from the neck.

Various diagnostic tools may be used, including:
X-rays are useful for identifying such problems as:
• narrowing of the intervertebral disc space>
• anterior osteophytes (i.e. bony spurs)
• Spondylosis (i.e. arthritis) of the facet joints
• osteophytes from the uncovertebral joints (see figures below)

                                         X-ray views of cervical vertebrae

Computed Tomography 
Computed tomography (CT) can highlight the bony changes associated with degenerative spondylosis (arthritis). Osteophytes can be observed and evaluated as well. However, CT does not provide for optimal evaluation of discs (although it may sometimes show disc herniations).

Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a powerful tool in the assessment of patients with cervical spondylosis. Images from MRI's can help doctors to identify disc herniations, osteophytes and joint arthrosis. MRI is best suited for soft disc herniations, but often times more information is needed.

MRI assessment of cervical vertebrae
It is often utilized in complex cases involving multi-level disease, or suboptimal MRI images. It is very useful in delineating bone spurs from safe disc herniations.

As in the lumbar and thoracic spine, cervical discography (see figure) remains controversial. Although the discogram may add to the clinician's knowledge, it should not be used by itself to predicate treatment. Treatment Options
After the doctor has conducted the necessary tests to identify the problem in the cervical spine, a treatment plan will then be developed. Various treatment options are available, and can be subdivided into two categories:
Non operative treatment
Operative treatment.

Nonoperative Treatment
Nonoperative treatment of cervical degenerative disease provides good to excellent results in over 75% of patients. A multidisciplinary approach includes:
• Immobilization- can be achieved using a collar or braces; most beneficial during acute exacerbations of pain by reducing motion at the symptomatic levels.

• Physical therapy and manipulation (chiropractic) - can be useful in decreasing muscle spasms that can contribute to symptoms; this is where heat, electrical stimulation, tractions and exercise have their maximum benefit.

• Medications - including painkillers, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory, and muscle relaxants. In many cases, nonoperative treatment can provide good long-term results.

• Pain management Modalities

Operative Treatment
A surgeon is likely to consider a surgical treatment of a cervical degenerative problem if one or more of the following criteria are met:
• Non operative treatments have been tried and failed
• The disorder is causing spinal cord dysfunction
• The disorder is causing prolonged arm pain or weakness

The surgical procedure proposed for these patients is removing the bone spur and possible fusion of two or more cervical vertebrae. In most instances, the preferred approach is an anterior (i.e. from the front) Interbody fusion. Using the anterior approach, a surgeon can perform a complete discectomy (i.e. removal of the disc between two vertebrae), and then seek to restore the normal disc space height and normal lordosis (i.e. the concave curve in the cervical spine) by implanting a carefully sculpted graft. A titanium plate may be utilized to improve the rate of fusion and avoid a neck brace.

A posterior approach (from the back of the spine) is often considered when a cervical disc has herniated laterally (i.e. sideways).

What is new?
The new concept is the motion preservation surgery -Cervical Disc Replacement .

Cervical spine degenerative disorders can be diagnosed more accurately and treated more effectively today than even five or ten years ago. Under the guidance and treatment of an expert spine specialist, most patients can now hope to see a very significant improvement in their condition.

  " This information is for educational purposes only and should not be relied upon as medical advice. It has not been designed to replace a physician's independent judgment about the appropriateness or risks of a procedure for a given patient."
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