The ligamentum flavum is a yellow-colored ligament that connects the vertebrae in the neck and back. This ligament provides protection to the neural elements of the spine and provides stability by preventing excess motion between vertebrae. Not only is the ligamentum flavum the strongest ligament in the spine, but its size and shape adapts to the body’s movements. For instance, this ligament stretches to provide the spinal canal with more room when sitting or leaning forward. When standing or leaning back, it provides less room for the spinal nerves because it is shorter and thicker.
Changes in the Ligamentum Flavum
The body goes through several changes as a person ages. Some of these changes occur because of the continued wear that is placed on the body over long periods of time. The neck and back are especially susceptible to these changes since they are responsible for supporting the majority of the body’s weight and movements. Over time, the ligamentum flavum can lose strength and elasticity, causing it to thicken and buckle towards the spinal column. When this happens, a patient can develop spinal stenosis (or a narrowing of the spinal canal), a sometimes painful condition. If the ligamentum flavum buckles to the point that it impinges a spinal nerve, a patient may experience the following symptoms of spinal stenosis:
- Localized pain
- Radiating pain (depending on the location of the spinal stenosis, the pain could radiate into the shoulders, arms, ribs, or legs)
Due to the dynamic nature of the ligamentum flavum, symptoms may worsen when standing or leaning back since the ligament naturally provides less room for the spinal canal in this state.
Patients who are experiencing any of the above symptoms should contact their doctor or back specialist. A number of treatment options are available and a physician can help to tailor a plan that is specific to a patient’s needs.