Spinal Diseases

On this page we will discuss some of common spinal diseases.X-ray of spine back



Congenital diseases are conditions you are born with or are inherited from one of your parents.

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Scoliosis (with fusion bridge)

There are many types of scoliosis which affect children and adults at different times in their lives. The common characteristic of scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine. Some patients with scoliosis experience a worsening of the curvature.

The goal of spinal surgery for scoliosis is to fuse the vertebrae so the spine cannot bend and to correct deformity. The surgeon will try to correct the curve by 50 percent or more. During the surgery two or more vertebrae are fused together. Most often the vertebrae are roughened up so that the body responds by producing new bone. New bone eventually bridges the gaps between the vertebrae and makes them fuse together. Metal implants — rods, screws, hooks or wires – are often put in to hold the spine still while the vertebrae fuse. Occasionally your surgeon will use bone from another part of your body such as your pelvis to form a bone graft which will create the new bone attaching the two vertebrae together.

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Herniated Vertebrae – Discs

Herniated discs involving lumbar and cervical vertebrae are very common. They are one of the most common of all spinal abnormalities. Most congenital conditions do not require any medical treatment other than monitoring by a physician. Occasionally moderate to severe cases may require conservative therapies and a few advanced cases of vertebral slippage might require surgical intervention, most commonly in the form of a spinal fusion procedure. The outcome for patients with herniated disc is good. Most people will improve with treatment. A small percentage may continue to have back pain even after treatment.

It may take several months to a year or more to go back to all of your activities without having pain or straining your back.

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Absence of Vertebrae

Some babies are born with missing vertebrae or two. Most often the part of the spine affected is the absence of the lower segment of the coccyx to the absence of the entire sacrum and all lumbar vertebrae. Congenital absence of the sacrum and the lumbar vertebrae is relatively rare. Lesser degrees of this anomaly may present so few signs that marked deformities are not present, and the condition may not be diagnosed unless accidentally found on radiographic examination. Diagnosis often does not occur until the child is an adolescent. Often no medical intervention is necessary, but like other abnormal conditions of the spine surgical intervention is necessary in severe cases.

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Spina Bifida

Spina bifida is a developmental congenital condition caused by the incomplete closing of the part of the embryonic neural tube. In the developing vertebrate, the neural tube is the embryo’s precursor to the central nervous system, which comprises the brain and spinal cord.

There are several kinds of spina bifida and each varies in seriousness. Spina bifida can be surgically closed after birth, but this does not restore normal function to the affected part of the spinal cord.

Spina bifida occulta is the least serious form of spina bifida. Many people with this type of spina bifida do not even know they have it, as the condition has no symptoms in most cases.

The least common form of spina bifida is a posterior meningocele. In posterior meningocele, the vertebrae develop normally, however the meninges (membranes which envelopes the central nervous system) are forced into the gaps between the vertebrae. As the nervous system remains undamaged, individuals with meningocele are unlikely to suffer long-term health problems

Myelomeningocele is the most common form of spina bifida and often results in the most severe complications.

In individuals with myelomeningocele, the unfused portion of the spinal column allows the spinal cord to protrude through an opening in the skin. The meningeal membranes that cover the spinal cord form a sac enclosing the spinal elements. Spina bifida with myeloschisis is the most severe form of myelomeningocele. Babies born with this condition require significant medical care and should be treated by a spine specialist.

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Degenerative diseases of the spine become more common as a person gets older. Several of the degenerative diseases should probably not be called diseases because they are simply a part of growing older. Osteoporosis and arthritis are two examples of degenerative diseases that affect many people as they grow older.

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Hernias (lumbar, Cervical, Dorsal)

Hernias of the spine often run in families which is why they are called congenital.

Congenital lumbar hernias are a rare condition. They can often be treated successfully with surgical intervention.

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Osteoporosis is the most common type of bone disease. It affects women much more often than men. Osteoporosis causes bones to thin and eventually weaken. Osteoporosis is preventable by eating foods strong in calcium and vitamin D.

Usually, the loss occurs gradually over years. Many times, a person will have a fracture before becoming aware that the disease is present. By the time a fracture occurs, the disease is in its advanced stages and damage is severe. Osteoporosis often runs in families. Other high risk factors for developing osteoporosis are smoking, not getting enough vitamin D in your diet, drinking large amounts of alcohol, and having had hormone treatments for prostate or breast cancer.

It is wise to see your physician if you have any risk factors for osteoporosis or you are in your late 40s. Some simple tests can determine if you have a vitamin D deficiency. Having a non-invasive scan at our clinic can give you piece of mind that your bone density is normal.

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Spondylosis is caused by chronic wear on the cervical spine. This includes the disks or cushions between the neck vertebrae and the joints between the bones of the cervical spine. There may be abnormal growths or “spurs” on the bones of the vertebrae. Everyday wear and tear may start these changes. People who are very active at work or in sports may be more likely to have them.

The major risk factor is aging. By age 60, most women and men show signs of cervical spondylosis on x-ray. Even if your neck pain does not go away completely, or it gets more painful at times, learning to take care of your neck and back at home and prevent repeat episodes of your pain can help you avoid surgery.

Your doctor and other health professionals can help you manage your pain and keep you as active as possible.

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Arthritis is inflammation of one or more joints. A joint is the area where two bones meet. There are over 100 different types of arthritis.

Arthritis involves the breakdown of cartilage. Cartilage normally protects a joint, allowing it to move smoothly. Cartilage also absorbs shock when pressure is placed on the joint, such as when you walk. Without the normal amount of cartilage, the bones rub together, causing pain, swelling (inflammation), and stiffness.

Usually the joint inflammation goes away after the cause goes away or is treated. Sometimes it does not. When this happens, you have chronic arthritis. Arthritis may occur in men or women. Osteoarthritis is the most common type.

Osteoarthritis is a normal result of aging. It is also caused by ‘wear and tear’ on a joint. OA cannot be cured. It will most likely get worse over time. However, your OA symptoms can be controlled.

You can have surgery, but other treatments (such as taking medicine to reduce swelling) can improve your pain and make your life much better. Although these treatments cannot make the arthritis go away, they can often delay surgery.

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Stenosis (Cervical, dorsal, lumbar)

Spinal stenosis is an abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal that may occur in any of the regions of the spine. This narrowing causes a restriction to the spinal cord, resulting in neurological weakness. Symptoms include pain, numbness, (paresthesia – the feeling of “pins and needles” or of a limb “falling asleep”) and loss of motor control. The location of the stenosis determines which area of the body is affected.

A common cause of neck pain, especially in older patients, is cervical stenosis. Cervical stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal in the neck area or upper part of the spine. This narrowing places pressure on the spinal cord. While some patients are born with this narrowing, most cases of cervical stenosis occur to patients over the age of 50 and are the result of aging and “wear and tear” on the spine.

Many patients with cervical stenosis have a history of some kind of injury or trauma to the neck, however this trauma may have occurred many months or even years before the onset of stenosis symptoms.

Most cases of cervical stenosis are successfully treated with non-surgical techniques such as pain and anti-inflammatory medications.

If non-surgical measures do not work, your doctor may recommend surgery to treat your stenosis. There are a number of surgical techniques that can be used to treat this condition. The goal of each of these surgical decompression treatments is to widen the spinal canal and relieve the pressure on the spinal cord by removing or trimming whatever is causing the compression.

Lumbar spinal stenosis may be, at times congenital or acquired (degenerative), overlapping changes normally seen in the aging spine, “resulting from degenerative changes or as consequences of local infection, trauma or surgery”.

Non-operative treatment is often the most conservative approach to treating lumbar spinal stenosis. Occasionally surgical treatment will be recommended.

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Congenital diseases of the spine often sound more serious than they often are. If you experience numbness in your limbs, loss of range of motion of your arms or legs, or weakening of your bones it is important to see one of our experts to help you determine if your symptoms are congenital or degenerative. We can then recommend the most appropriate course of treatment.

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