We don’t often think about the many benefits of a functional back until basic functions like bending over to sit down have been disrupted by pain. The spine supports everything we do, from walking across a parking lot to lying comfortably in bed at night. Because the spine is constantly in use in some way, there is a susceptibility to wear and tear and injury. It has been estimated that approximately 80 percent of people experience back pain at some point. General use is only a vague explanation for back pain, though. To better understand why pain may develop, we’ve got to have some idea of the way that the spine connects to the nervous system and the entire body.
Spine & Back: Complex Anatomy
The spine is a complex matrix of bones, muscles, joints, connective tissue, and nerves. The purpose of this part of the body is to surround the spinal cord with protective structure. The spine also has to allow passage to numerous nerve roots that extend off of the spinal cord and travel throughout the body. In addition to 4 segments of bones called vertebrae, the spinal column also has dozens of discs, gel-like pieces of tissue that sit in between each set of vertebrae. The purpose of these discs is to prevent friction between the bones. Additionally, each bone in the spine is supported by a synovial joint. These joints provide the spine with mobility and flexibility.
Back Pain May Relate to Any Component of Spinal Structure
- Muscle and soft tissue problems. Stress and strain on the back may lead to inflammation in one of the ligaments, tendons, or muscles that support the spinal column. Stress may occur in an accident of some kind or may result from something as benign as poor posture.
- Disc issues. The spinal discs are under pressure all day every day. The constant use of discs can lead to degradation; good old wear and tear. As a disc wears down, it may tear or rupture, allowing some of the inner material to leak out into the spinal canal or to nearby nerve roots.
- Vertebral problems. The bones of the spine are made to endure a lifetime of use. However, they are not indestructible. An accident or sports injury could fracture one of the bones of the spine. Sometimes, tiny fractures occur seemingly out of the blue as a result of osteoarthritis.
- Spinal cord problems. For the nerve roots to function properly as they exit the spinal cord, they must have adequate space. Conditions like spinal stenosis decrease the area within the spinal canal for nerve roots to pass through. The compression of spinal nerve roots can also lead to radiculitis, or pain occurring in areas where the affected nerve travels.
Back Pain Deserves Attention
Chronic back pain may be common but that does not make it normal. It is not necessary to live in persistent or debilitating pain. A spinal specialist can help you understand the nature of back pain. Importantly, a spinal specialist will seek to control pain using conservative modalities. Only when these therapies do not work does surgery become a recommended option.