The human spinal column, composed of 33 individual bones known as vertebrae, is the body’s main support structure.
Between each vertebra are flexible discs that act as cushions. Because the spine must be both stable as well as flexible, it can be particularly prone to injury, and can degenerate over time.
1. Herniated Discs
The vertebral discs have the important role of shock absorption, and they help the spine to bend and flex. With a herniated disc, the center of the disc ruptures, the disc becomes smaller and is no longer able to provide as much cushioning, which can result in back pain, sciatica or other issues. Herniated discs can be caused by injury or from the normal wear and tear of aging.
The largest nerve in the body is the sciatic nerve, running from the lower back through the buttocks and down the legs. Sciatica occurs when this nerve is compressed or irritated, resulting in pain, weakness or numbness on one side of the lower body.
3. Degenerative Disc Disease
Within each vertebral disc is a gel-like fluid that helps to absorb shock. As we age, this fluid can dry up, which weakens the discs and reduces their ability to cushion the vertebrae as degenerative disc disease sets in. When discs degenerate, they can create bone spurs, which can put pressure on the nerve roots, causing pain or limiting movement.
4. Spinal Stenosis
Over time, the spinal canal can become increasingly narrow, putting pressure on the nerves and causing sciatica, pain, weakness or numbness in the affected areas. A number of factors, including age, heredity, trauma and arthritis can all cause spinal stenosis.