What Spine Problem Do I Have?

Many people are familiar with the names of many spinal diseases and conditions. Their doctors have often mentioned these conditions or they have seen these terms while reading their MRI reports. The following is a brief description of some of the most common disorders of the spine.

Cervical Radiculopathy

Lumbar Disc Herniation

Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

Spondylolisthesis

Cervical Myelopathy

Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
Stenosis is a term that means “narrowing” of a tubular structure. Spinal stenosis refers to narrowing of the spinal canal, where the nerves or spinal cord are contained. Degeneration and arthritis in the lumbar spine can lead to stenosis causing compression on the nerves that provide feeling and strength to the legs. The most common complaints caused by spinal stenosis are those of a decreased ability to stand and walk because of leg pain, numbness, or weakness. Most frequently it is a gradually worsening problem rather than one that appears suddenly.
Lumbar Disc Herniation
Herniated discs that cause pressure on the spinal cord or nerves are another significant problem that causes extremity pain and weakness. In the lumbar spine, this causes pain, numbness, or tingling that runs down the buttocks, thigh, and down the leg. If the nerves are significantly damaged, weakness in the foot or leg can occur. Symptoms frequently occur suddenly and are severe.
Cervical Radiculopathy
Pain that radiates from the neck down the arm and into the hands and fingers is frequently caused by compression on the nerves in the cervical spine (the neck). This is referred to as a radiculopathy, meaning the pain follows the pattern of the length of the nerves coming from the spine. It can be caused by the arthritic bone spurs of spinal stenosis or even a disc herniation in the neck.
Cervical Myelopathy
Because the cervical spine (the neck) contains the spinal cord as well as the nerves that supply the arms, it is possible to have a degenerative condition where the spinal cord is compressed. This is called a myelopathy. Early signs of compression on the spinal cord can include pain, numbness, and tingling in the arms and legs. Difficulties with hand writing, coordination, and balance are common. Late signs include the development of weakness and paralysis.
Spondylolisthesis
This is a Greek word that means “slip of the spine.” Essentially one or more vertebrae are moved out of alignment in relation to the other vertebrae of the spine. There are several causes of this problem. One type a person is essentially born with or develops early in life. It is caused by a fracture in a critical part of the spine. In adolescence they may begin to have back pain and even pain radiating into the legs. The most common type occurs much later in life as part of arthritis and degeneration and is associated with spinal stenosis. The two types are treated very differently, and it is important to identify the causes.
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