The spine is a bony column that is made up of three parts--the upper or cervical spine, the middle or thoracic spine, and the lower or lumbar spine. As a whole, the spine is made up of 24 bones called vertebrae. These vertebrae are connected to one another by small joints called facet joints. The vertebrae are separated from one another by a tough fibrous liner called a disk. These disks act as shock absorbers and provide the spine its flexibility.
In addition to the vertebrae and facet joints, the spine is stabilized by tough, stout ligaments which are assisted by many muscles which surround and support the spine. These muscles contract and relax in order to allow for normal movement.
The spinal cord is a large trunk of nerves that runs from the brain down to the lumbar spine. It passes through a central canal created by the center of each vertebra. At each vertebral level, a smaller nerve branches out from this spinal cord. These nerves travel down to the arms, the torso, and the legs. These nerves are the transmission lines by which the brain sends electrical impulses to the body, telling its parts how to function. The brain also receives information from the body through these nerves.
Back pain is oftentimes caused by muscle spasm, which can be the result of an underlying injury. Some underlying injuries include vertebal fractures, disc injury or degeneration, and nerve impingement. These Injuries can be aggravated by associated conditions, such as narrowing (stenosis) of the canal or shifting of the vertebra (spondylolisthesis), one upon the other.
Low back pain is sometimes caused by:
- Constant stress from slouching over a keyboard or steering wheel
- Excessive stress to the back, such as lifting something heavy
- Arthritis of the spine
- Problems with tendons or ligaments in and around the spine
Only your physician can determine the cause of your back pain. You should expect your physician to conduct a battery of tests including a physical examination and diagnostic tests before diagnosing your condition.
To learn about some of the most common spine injuries and conditions, view the videos, below.