Overview of the vertebrae in the back

The vertebrae in the spine are some of the most important bones in the body. These relatively small structures interlock with each other to keep the spine stable while remaining flexible enough to allow us to lean forward, backward, side to side and to pivot on an axis. However, as a result of this flexibility, the vertebrae are also prone to problems, particularly at the lumbar (lower) level. This is because the lumbar spine is largely responsible for supporting the weight of the upper body. As these vertebrae wear down due to age and weight gain, a number of painful symptoms and loss of mobility can occur.

Some of the most common symptoms of problems affecting the vertebrae and spinal discs include pain in the neck or back, radiating pain in the local extremities, numbness and tingling in the extremities and limited movement and mobility of the spine. If you are experiencing these symptoms, you should seek advice from your doctor to determine the cause of your pain. Many times, basic conservative therapies like rest, lifestyle changes and physical therapy are effective in treating mild degenerative spine conditions.

Common causes of back pain

The vertebrae in the back essentially serve two main purposes: supporting the torso while maintaining flexibility and protecting the spinal cord as it travels from the brain to the body. To accomplish this, the thoracic (middle) back vertebrae are largely stable and fused to the ribs, while the lumbar spine vertebrae are larger and more mobile. Because of the increased mobility, the lumbar spine is much more susceptible to damage than the thoracic spine, which is why nearly everyone has to deal with some degree of lower back pain at some point in life. This pain and stiffness is further exacerbated as we grow older because our discs and joints wear down.

These forces lead to a number of conditions that can affect the vertebrae in the back, including:

  • Spinal stenosis, or narrowing of the spinal canal
  • Bone spurs
  • Foraminal stenosis, or narrowing of the opening where nerve roots branch off the spinal cord
  • Herniated or bulging discs
  • Spondylosis

A doctor can determine the cause of your back pain by performing a physical exam and possibly ordering an MRI or CT scan to view the anatomy of your spine. Once this is determined, he or she can help you move forward with a treatment plan.

Treatment options

If you are experiencing any of the above conditions, you are probably considering your treatment options. In a high number of cases, you can sufficiently manage your pain with conservative treatment over several weeks. Specifically, rest, medication, physical therapy, strengthening exercises, cold therapy and heat therapy are all effective methods.

However, if fully pursuing these and other treatments don’t offer lasting pain relief, and you’re still experiencing problems with one of your back vertebrae, surgery can become an option. At Laser Spine Institute, our team of board-certified surgeons+ specializes exclusively in minimally invasive outpatient spine surgery. To learn more about the causes of back vertebrae problems and the treatment options available to you, contact Laser Spine Institute today.

We’ll be happy to help you receive a free MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.