Doctor Holding a Model of a Spine

Spinal Cord Disorders

The spine consists of a complex system of bones, intervertebral discs, joints, and ligaments that provide structure and movement to the body.  The spine also functions to protect the spinal cord and nerves from injury.  A problem with any component of this complex system can lead to pain or neurological deficit.  The most common causes of spinal disorders are degenerative aging, trauma, oncology, and infection.

Symptoms of Spinal Cord Disorders

The spine has three main regions:  cervical, thoracic, and lumbosacral.  Symptoms of a spinal disorder depend on the location and cause of the problem.  For instance, structural problems in the spine (bone, disc, joint) most typically present with pain or change in posture.  Pain is typically localized to the neck or back, and is precipitated by movement.  Examples of structural problems in the spine include disc or facet degeneration, spondylolisthesis/instability, and scoliosis.

Alternatively, spinal disorders that affect the spinal cord or nerves typically present with radiating pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in the upper or lower extremities.  Unilateral symptoms are more indicative of nerve root compression, whereas symmetrical symptoms generally localize to the spinal cord or cauda equina.

Diagnosis of Spinal Cord Disorders

The diagnosis of spinal cord disorders begins with a detailed history and physical examination.  Imaging studies, including X-Ray, MRI, and CT scans, are frequently used to determine the pathological process.  Laboratory examination can also aid in the diagnostic work-up.

Treatment of Spinal Cord Disorders

Treatment starts with conservative measures, such as anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, and injections.  Lifestyle modification, including weight loss and smoking cessation, can also have a significant impact on spinal disorders.  Once conservative care options have been exhausted, then surgical intervention can be explored for the treatment of pain and/or neurological deficit.

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