Normal Anatomy of the Spine
The human spine, which is made up of 33 individual vertebrae, has the essential role of supporting our bodies. Without the spine, we would not have the stability and flexibility to bend and twist our bodies to perform everyday necessary functions. The spine is also home to crucial muscles, nerves, tendons, and ligaments. The spine’s additional, and equally important, function to providing support and flexibility to our bodies, is acting as the bridge between our brains and the rest of our bodies. A stream of neurotransmitters will communicate pivotal functions and responses along the nerves within the spine. Because of its major role within our bodies, spinal health is of extreme importance as any damage to the spine can lead to significant physical and cognitive impairments.
Many people, young and old, suffer from back pain. Lower back pain is one of the most commonly treated medical conditions. Back pain may originate from any number of causes including overexertion, trauma, age or disease and can manifest in the muscles, tendons or nerves. Back pain is considered acute if it lasts no more than six weeks, and chronic if it lasts for more than three months.
The human neck supports the head and allows for its flexion, extension, rotation and lateral bending. The part of the spine that controls the neck is known as the cervical spine. The neck also houses the esophagus, the larynx, trachea, the thyroid gland, the carotid arteries and jugular veins. Because of its complex structure and anatomical significance, neck pain is often severe and requires immediate and often ongoing care to correct.
If a condition causes the loss of function and alters the standard structure of the spine, it is considered degenerative. Many conditions are included within the degenerate category, and most people experience them to some degree since they are typically associated with the effects of aging. However, if an individual’s spine has suffered repeated strain or injury, it is significantly more likely to develop some form of degeneration. Lifestyle habits and genetics also play a role in degenerative spine conditions.
One particularly painful condition that affects the spine is called Disc Herniation. This condition, which can manifest anywhere along the spine, occurs when the soft, jelly-like nucleus of the spinal discs pushes out against the outer fibers and places pressure against the spinal cord and associated nerves. Herniated discs are relatively common and quite painful.
When sudden injury, such as a fall or car accident, causes direct damage to the spine and spinal cord, the potential for significant pain, and even disability, increases exponentially. Spinal injuries such as fractures, dislocations, and subluxations are incredibly delicate and must be treated immediately by a capable medical professional.
Fractures affecting the vertebrae of the spine result in severe spinal instability, increased risk of spinal cord damage, and crippling pain. Vertebral fractures can occur as a result of accidental trauma as well as the result of chronic conditions such as osteoporosis. Although the more common compression fractures do not typically require surgery, even slight cases have the potential to develop into chronic conditions.
Total Disc Replacement Surgery
In between each spinal vertebra sits a disc that acts as a buffer, or cushion, to support each vertebra and absorb pressure. If a single or series of vertebral discs are damaged or diseased, total disc replacement surgery will be required to reduce the risk of severe spine damage and minimize back pain. During total disc replacement surgery, surgeons will replace damaged vertebral discs with a artificial discs. After a total disc replacement, the majority of patients can recuperate normal spinal function and movement.
When pressure builds up over the spinal cord, and associated nerve roots, it can create a ruptured disc or herniated disc, leading to severe and lasting pain. In these cases, a surgical procedure known as a Microdiscectomy can be performed to relieve the pent-up pressure and improve back pain symptoms. This procedure is highly successful but is not recommended in cases where the pain is moderately tolerable.
When the pain in the lumbar region of the back becomes debilitating, patients are presented with the option to undergo a surgical procedure called a decompression laminectomy. Lumbar laminectomy is incredibly effective at relieving the pressure on the spinal nerves of the lower back region.
Spinal fusion, or arthrodesis, is the process of combing (fusing) two or more vertebrae together to create stability and proper alignment of the spine. Lumbar fusion is a procedure focused on combing vertebrae within the lumbar spine (low back), while thoracic fusion would focus on vertebrae in the mid to upper back and cervical fusion would correct vertebrae near the neck. Spinal fusions are recommended for patients suffering from chronic pain that is no longer manageable with medications.
The human spine is essential for the body’s ability to stand upright and move in any direction. There are three main regions into which the spine can be divided (cervical, thoracic, and lumbar). Along these regions, we find the many vertebrae that make up the spinal column. Discectomies work to remove anomalous material from the discs of the vertebrae through surgery. This ensures optimal spinal health and overall bodily function.
As a minimally invasive spine treatment, Vertebroplasty is a low-risk treatment, aimed at improving vertebral compression fractures generated from weakened bones.
Thoracic corpectomy is a procedure that is used to relieve pressure that is impacting a nerve, or nerves, along the thoracic spine (middle and upper back). During the procedure, critical sections of the impacted vertebral discs are removed to relieve stress on the compressed nerves. Corpectomy is commonly used to relief pressure caused by a tumor, fracture, degenerative disc disease, bone spurs, spinal stenosis or infection. Patients who undergo this procedure typically report experiencing immediate improvement of their symptoms.