The spine is a complex contiguous anatomical structure that spans from the base of the skull to the tailbone which provides strength and flexibility while protecting the vital vulnerable neurological tissue to include the spinal cord and spinal nerve roots.
Although the spine is a continuous structure from the top to the bottom, it is further classified into three anatomically and functionally distinct areas which include the cervical spine, thoracic spine, and the lumbar spine. Some may consider a fourth segment to include the sacral coccygeal area in the region of the posterior pelvis.
The cervical spine is located in the neck area and is composed of several vertebral bones separated by six soft tissue discs.
Common cervical injuries treated on an out-patient basis include cervical sprains and strains, whiplash injuries from automobile or sports injuries, “pinched nerves,” neck stiffness, and cervical arthritic conditions.
The thoracic spine starts from the base of the neck and proceeds to the end of the rib cage. The thoracic spine is also known as the dorsal spine or mid back. The thoracic spine is notable for each vertebral segment being supported by a rib which provides structural support for the spine, the chest cavity, and the vital organs.
Thoracic spine injuries are less frequent than those involving the neck and low back but may also include sprains, fractures, disc disorders, and nerve root irritations.
The lumbar spine starts after the last rib at the level of the lower chest and proceeds to the level of the pelvis. It is typically composed of five bony vertebrae and intervening soft separating discs. The lumbar spine is vulnerable to injuries often involving lifting. Low back injuries may be acute or chronic. Low back pain allows for millions of missed work days per year in the United States and worldwide. Back pain, back stiffness, radiating nerve pain, “sciatica,” and lower extremity weakness may be symptoms of a low back problem. Additional conditions that occur in the low back include arthritic conditions, disc degenerative conditions, and spinal stenosis.
Fortunately, most spinal conditions can be successfully managed without surgical intervention and often respond to activity modifications, exercise programs, physical therapy, and the judicious use of oral medications and in some cases injections. Approximately 90% of all acute onset low back pain resolves in 6 weeks.
More serious lumbar conditions that do not respond to nonoperative management or allow for severe debilitating pain or associated neurological loss may require consideration for surgical intervention.
An orthopedic evaluation is the first step in returning your spinal condition to optimum health.
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