Spinal abnormalities refer to any deviation from normal spine anatomy, excluding common variations. The abnormality may be congenital, meaning the patient was born with the condition, or they may result from injury or the aging process. Spinal abnormalities may be considered medically pathological, but that does not mean that they are not common.
The relationship between spinal abnormalities and back pain is complex. Any resulting disability depends on the type of abnormality as well as on the individual. Back pain or other back dysfunction is far more frequently the result of a back injury, such as disc herniation, than a congenital condition like scoliosis.
Non-Injury-Related Spinal Abnormalities
Many people are born each year with spinal abnormalities. Some conditions are severe and require immediate medical treatment to prevent or ameliorate serious deformity. Other conditions may be asymptomatic and undetected for years. Some examples of congenital spinal conditions include:
- Spina Bifida" . Spina Bifida occurs in two varieties, Spina Bifida Occulta, and Spina Bifida Overta. In Latin Spina bifida literally means “split spine”, occulta means “hidden”, and overta means “known” . These conditions result when the neural tube in a developing fetus does not fully close causing vertebrae to incompletely form. How much developmental defect occurs determines whether the spina bifida is occulta or overta. This defect results in a part of the spinal cord which is not contained within the spinal canal. The spinal cord may protrude from the boney spine through the defect. In spina bifida occulta, the neural tube defect is small and the spinal nerves develop normally. In spina bifida overta, it’s larger. The spinal nerves normally extending to the lower extremities may become entangled and no longer reach the tissues they should innervate. In spina bifida occulta, no neurologic deficit occurs. The patient usually discovers that they have spina bifida occulta as an adult when they develop back pain. In spina bifida overta neural damage that ranges from moderate to severe. People with this disease are often paralyzed to some degree. Spina bifida overta is usually discovered at birth but may be detected in utero through amniocentesis.
- Scoliosis: Scoliosis is a condition in which a person’s spine abnormally curves in an “s” or a “c” shape. The curvature may be slight or pronounced; in some severe cases, the condition can result in reduced lung capacity. Scoliosis is usually idiopathic, which means that it develops spontaneously with no known cause or method of prevention. Treatment options range from simple observation to ensure the condition does not progress, to back bracing, or possibly surgery.
- Sixth Lumbar Vertebra: The sacrum is composed of five vertebrae fused into a single boney mass. In 4 to 5 percent of individuals, the topmost vertebrae (S1) does not fuse to the remaining four (S2 through S5). This non-fused first sacral vertebra is often referred as a sixth lumbar vertebra. Patients do not actually have an additional vertebra, they just have a vertebra which did not fuse. Usually, this condition is asymptomatic, however, the mechanics of the lower back are slightly altered potentially making these individuals more susceptible to back injury.
- Kyphosis: A normal spine curves from front to back in three main places: the cervical curvature of the neck, the thoracic curvature between the shoulder blades, and the lumbar curvature in the lower back. Kyphosis is a condition in which the thoracic curvature is too pronounced, resulting in the appearance of a “humpback.” The condition may be congenital or it may result from other causes, including trauma, endocrine disorders, infection, and spinal tumors.
If pain from spinal abnormalities limits your quality of life, contact Laser Spine Institute. Our innovative outpatient procedures may be able to help you restore your health.