The spinal column and its most common problems

The spine is a solid bone structure that supports the body and allows it to move. It also has the function of protecting the central nervous system. At Instituto Clavel we are experts in the spine and we want to tell you more about it: its structure, its functions and the most frequent problems it can have.

As we said, the spine is a combination of bones joined to each other by different connective tissues so that it is solid and flexible at the same time, which makes it act as a support for the body, but also as an axis to enable movement in many planes. It allows us to get up, bend down, turn, etc. In addition to all this, it also has the function of protecting the central nervous system.

Without a doubt, the spine is a fundamental part of the human body and plays a part in the vast majority of daily activities, so it is important to understand it and take care of it to prevent a series of common back problems. In the following we explain its structure and the most common problems it can have. 

What is the structure of the spine?

The spinal column consists of 33 vertebrae separated by intervertebral discs. The column is divided in segments as follows: 

  • Cervical spine: 7 vertebrae
  • Thoracic spine: 12 vertebrae
  • Lumbar spine: 5 vertebrae
  • Sacral region: 5 vertebrae
  • Coccyx: 4 vertebrae

The mobile segments par excellence are the cervical and lumbar spine, the thoracic spine being less mobile, among other things, due to the rigidity of the rib cage. For this reason, disc degeneration causing pain and spinal or nerve root compression usually occurs at the level of the cervical and lumbar spine.


The most common problems of the spinal column

Disc degeneration

The intervertebral functional unit is designed to allow the movement of the axial skeleton while supporting and distributing the loads that allow us to walk upright. The mechanics of each of the vertebral segments varies according to the level of the spine.

In general, in the vertebral segment (except in the thoracic spine, sacrum and coccyx), 6 movements take place in all planes of space:

  • Flexion (front)
  • Extension
  • Lateral flexion, left and right
  • Axial compression and distraction
  • Rotation
  • Translation

All of these movements occur with a mechanical combination of the three joints of the vertebral segment:

  • Intervertebral disc
  • Right apophyseal joint
  • Left apophyseal joint

Over time all the joints in our body inevitably degenerate. In the case of the intervertebral disc, it loses its water content and with it, loses part of its biomechanical capacity. Disc degeneration leads to weakness in the collagen fibers, resulting in breaks in the ring fibers. In addition, it is usually also accompanied by a certain degree of degeneration of the interapophyseal facets

At various phases of degeneration, pain may appear. The pain is generally in the lumbar or cervical region when there is only degeneration of the disc, or it can also be radicular (from a cervical or lumbar nerve), if the degeneration leads to a disc herniation that compresses a nerve.

The herniated disc, either lumbar or cervical, appears due to the aforementioned weakness and rupture of the ring fibers, allowing the contents of the nucleus pulposus to escape outside of the disc.



Lumbalgia or cervicalgia

Most cases of lumbalgia or cervicalgia, which are the primary culprits of back pain, are usually temporary time and patients improve with conservative measures. However, sometimes the pain may not improve with conservative treatment, and that is when surgical treatment is needed.

In general, cervicalgia or lumbalgia can originate in different areas: 

  • The muscles. The cervicalgias or lumbalgias of muscular origin must be treated conservatively, by means of physiotherapy treatment or postural education.
  • The facet joints. When there is a suspicion that the pain may originate from the facet joints, the treatment of choice is usually radiofrequency, that is, heat ablation of the sensory nerves that supply the joints.
  • The disc. When the pain is of disc origin, the treatment of choice is usually surgical. Among the surgical options, Instituto Clavel is committed to choosing ADR when it is appropriate for the patient’s condition.

In a particular case, low back pain can be caused by inflammation of the sacroiliac joint. Finally, and when all the other causes have been ruled out, the neck and back pain can also be due to psychosocial factors or certain jobs.

Occasionally, lower back or cervical pain can radiate to the legs or arms, respectively. Less frequently, pain manifests exclusively in the arms or legs. In these situations, it is advisable to rule out other causes of pain, such as those originating in the joints of the extremities themselves.

Have you experienced any of these problems? Whether that is the case or not, at Instituto Clavel we want to remind you that care and prevention are key to maintaining a healthy spine. In this post we give you several tips to prevent back pain. Also, if you have questions or need personalized advice, we invite you to contact us. We want to help you!

Share on:

Related posts

How to prevent and treat back pain

Back pain has become an increasingly more frequent problem due to our current lifestyle, characterized by a lack of physical activity and sedentary habits. However, preventing or reducing it is possible: take note of these tips from the spine specialists at Instituto Clavel!

Read more
How does use of new technology affect our backs?

The use of devices like mobile phones can have a serious impact on the back. The Instituto Clavel, a center specialized in spinal pathologies, explains here how the use of technology affects us and what we can do to reduce its negative consequences.

Read more
Back pain and employee sick leave: causes and prevention

Just like it says in the title: back pain is responsible for approximately half the cases of employee sick leave in Spain, especially among office workers. Let Instituto Clavel tell you why and offer some postural hygiene guidelines to prevent it from happening to you too.

Read more