Spine conditions are extremely common, but how do you know if you are experiencing a spine condition or an issue with a muscle or tendon? It is not always easy to tell. If you are experiencing limb pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness it is quite likely you are suffering from a spine condition. Unfortunately, a spine condition may only cause localized pain, similar to a simple muscle or tendon strain. Thus, it can be difficult to sort out on your own. The following list provides information about the most common spine conditions. When in doubt, however, it is always best to speak with an expert in spine conditions for an accurate diagnosis.
Virtually everyone will have back pain at some point in their adult lives. Back pain may occur after an injury or brisk unintended movement or may simply emerge without warning. Fortunately, in more than 90% of cases, back pain resolves within 7 to 10 days with conservative treatments such as ice, heat, and oral pain medications, muscle relaxants, or physical therapy. In most cases, surgery is not needed for acute or subacute back pain. When back pain becomes chronic, however, it likely indicates a spine condition. Spine surgeons are specialists in all back pain treatments, both conservative and surgical. If you have back pain that is not resolving on its own, it may be useful to consult with a spine surgeon to explore the full range of conservative treatment options.
We take neck movement for granted until it is limited by pain. Neck pain interferes with virtually every physical activity that involves moving the neck. Neck pain may be due to simple muscle strain or it could be caused by a problem in the cervical spine. Most cases of neck pain resolve on their own, but those that do not, go on to become chronic neck pain. Chronic neck pain could indicate a spine condition.
Back pain that lasts for more than 6 weeks is reclassified as “chronic” back pain. Once back pain becomes chronic back pain, it likely means it is caused by something that is not going to resolve on its own. People with chronic back pain have often tried various medical treatments without relief. Once back pain becomes chronic, patients should be evaluated by a spinal surgeon. A spinal surgeon may suggest new conservative treatments that have not been tried, non-surgical, minimally invasive pain relief procedures, or surgical treatments. By consulting with a spine surgeon, patients with chronic back pain have access to all treatment options provided by back pain specialists.
Like chronic back pain, neck pain that lasts for more than 6 weeks is called chronic neck pain. Patients who suffer from chronic neck pain should be evaluated by a spinal surgeon to determine if surgery can resolve the symptoms. Since the cervical spine (the spine in the neck) has a wide range of motion in various directions (flexion, extension, tilting, rotating), ask your spinal surgeon if artificial disc replacement could help. Cervical artificial disc replacement relieves chronic neck pain symptoms and restores spinal motion in the neck.
The spinal cord is surrounded almost entirely by spinal bones, which protect the spinal cord. Nerves pass through small openings in and between the spinal bones to communicate with the rest of the body. Spinal stenosis is a condition in which the space normally occupied by the spinal cord and spinal nerves becomes too narrow. The nerves may become “pinched,” which may cause symptoms such as back pain and tingling or numbness, or even leg weakness.
Spondylolysis occurs when a small, specific part of the spinal bone called the pars interarticularis fractures. Often the fracture is very small, which means the bones remain close together. In some cases, though, the fracture can be relatively large, and the broken bone fragment may move away from the rest of the spinal bone. Small spinal fractures might heal without surgery, but large fractures may require surgical stabilization. In spine stabilization surgery, the spine surgeon may insert hardware in the area to hold the bones close together to promote healing. A bone graft or artificial bone matrix may be needed to help spondylolysis fractures heal.
Normally, the spinal bones or vertebrae form an orderly stack from skull to pelvis. However, if one of those spinal bones moves out of place relative to the others, it is called spondylolisthesis. Spondylolisthesis may cause symptoms such as back stiffness, pain when bending over, or muscle weakness, tingling, or spasms. Low grade spondylolisthesis can usually be reversed with conservative care such as physical therapy, braces, and oral pain medications. People with high grade spondylolisthesis, however, may need surgery, which usually includes spinal cord/nerve decompression and some form of stabilization surgery.
Between most of our spinal bones rests an intervertebral disc. These discs absorb shock, provide spinal mobility, and give the spinal cord and spinal roots the space they need to pass through spaces in the spinal column. While intervertebral discs are generally resilient, they can succumb to wear and tear over time. The breakdown of intervertebral discs is called degenerative disc disease. Degenerative disc disease is a major cause of neck or lower back pain, and may cause numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness.
Normally, intervertebral discs rest fully within the spaces between spinal bones (vertebrae) providing mobility, cushioning and height to the spine. However, if a portion of a disc moves out of this space, it is considered herniated. A herniated disc may cause symptoms of pain, numbness, or weakness if the bulging or slipped disc presses on a nearby nerve. In many cases, surgery is not needed to treat a herniated disc; however, spinal surgery may be needed if the herniated disc causes severe symptoms (e.g., loss of bowel or bladder control, difficulty walking, neurological deficits) or medical treatments fail to provide relief.
There is no shortage of spinal surgeons in Los Angeles, CA, but finding a top spinal surgeon in LA takes a bit of research. The best spinal surgeons become the best by delivering the best outcomes for patients over a long career. Look for a spinal surgeon who is board-certified in orthopedic surgery or neurosurgery (sometimes called a “Diplomate” as in “Diplomate of the American Board of Neurological Surgery”). From that pool of qualified surgeons, select a spinal surgeon who has a sufficient amount of experience in spinal surgery, that is, someone who specializes in the treatment of spine conditions and diseases. Experience comes with practice, so the best spinal surgeons in Los Angeles, CA are the ones who have been in practice for at least 15 years. Lastly, look for a spinal surgeon who is an expert in decompression, spinal fusion, and especially artificial disc replacement, since this will allow you to choose between all possible treatments and select the approach that is right for you.