The spine plays a role in nearly every movement made by the human body. The head, chest, and arms are all connected through the spinal anatomy, and even the legs “know” what to do because of signals transmitted to and from the brain along the spinal cord. A complicated array of bone, cartilage, collagen, muscles, ligaments, fluid, and other tissue form the spine, which serves as the body’s primary skeletal support and protects vital components of the central nervous system.
There are 33 stacked bones, or vertebrae, from the top of the spine to the bottom. These bones are grouped into five segments, or regions, and referred to by abbreviations based on their location:
- Cervical spine (C1-C7)
- Thoracic spine (T1-T12)
- Lumbar spine (L1-L5)
- Sacrum (S1-S5)
- Coccyx (tailbone)
The vertebral column is what most people envision when they think of the spine. Yet, the vertebrae merely provide the infrastructure for the spinal anatomy. Other components include:
- Spinal cord
- Intervertebral discs
- Nerve roots
- Spinal ligaments
- Blood vessels
- Spinal fluid
- Protective membranes and other tissue
There are 31 pairs of nerve roots that branch off the spinal cord in order to send sensory impulses to other parts of the body. Chronic back or neck pain can occur because one or more nerve roots are irritated, or compressed by conditions like spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal canal. This narrowing can happen when the spine is injured, or if disc degeneration has begun as a result of wear and tear or osteoarthritis.
Many degenerative conditions within the spine can be treated using exercise or physical therapy, although conservative treatments might not always be enough to alleviate chronic neck or back pain. When surgery has been presented as an option, consider the gentle, endoscopic techniques practiced at Laser Spine Institute (LSI) as an alternative to traditional open-back surgery. Contact LSI for a free review of your MRI or CT scan, and to learn how a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure can help you rediscover a life without pain.