Anatomy Of The Spine
The back is composed of vertebrae stacked on each other. There are seven cervical (neck) vertebrae, 12 thoracic (mid-back) vertebrae, five lumbar vertebra, the sacrum, and the coccyx. They are stacked in a way to form an S-shaped column and are supported by muscle and ligaments.The main function of the spine is to support the weight of the body, while maintaining flexibility. Between each vertebra is an intervertebral disc which acts as a shock absorber. The discs and the vertebrae work together in a series of joints that allow the spine to move forward, back, and sideways and also allow for rotation.The spine also protects the spinal cord. The spinal cord is a tube of nervous tissue that runs from the brain through the spinal column ending up as a series of nerves. These nerves leave the spinal column at different levels to supply the limbs, organs of the body, and sensation to the skin.The back is designed to support muscles, ligaments and organs. Because of our varied postures (sitting, standing, bending) and activities, the spine is subjected to numerous stresses during the day. It can cope with everyday stresses such as lifting, but when it is subjected to abnormally high stresses, the muscles and ligaments become overstretched and tear. The discs start to deteriorate and the joint spaces start to decrease, causing joint damage that can lead to nerve compression. As we age, the discs in our back start to shrink and lose their elasticity. This progresses to degenerative disc disease.
Who is most affected by back pain? Back pain is most common in adults, and more prevalent in men than in women. However, with children carrying heavier backpacks for school and being more sedentary in their activities, back pain is becoming more common in young people.
What causes back pain? Back pain may be the result of an acute onset (sudden) or chronic (long-term) in nature, and can include: