Guide Common Spinal Disorders Explained

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Even when spine specialists spend a great deal of time explaining the problem, it is still often hard to understand. This is a common problem, and it's no one's fault.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Simply put, back problems are difficult to describe and difficult to understand. The goal of this article is to explain in detail how spinal anatomy is commonly described and typical sources of confusion. Importantly, this article discusses how terminology used for spinal anatomy relates to common diagnoses and sources of back problems for patients.

First, it is important to explain that the spinal cord does not usually cause back problems. Conditions that involve damage to the spinal cord which can cause paralysis usually involve trauma or disease in the cervical spine or thoracic spine , and this is different from the majority of back problems that cause pain. The spinal cord originates at the base of the brain and runs down through the cervical and thoracic spinal canal and ends just before the lumbar segments begin. This means that there is no spinal cord in the low back. While some problems in the cervical spine such as cervical stenosis can impinge on the spinal cord and produce symptoms such as difficulty with coordination, it is far more common for back problems to affect the nerve roots rather than the spinal cord.

Ankylosing spondylitis - NHS

Nerve roots exit through holes in the bone of the spine at each level. It is common for back problems to affect the nerve roots as they exit the spine and cause pain and other symptoms that radiate to the extremities called a radiculopathy. In the low back, the way the nerve roots exit and branch off from the lumbar spine and sacral region looks like a horse's tail cauda equina. They exit to each side between the bones in the spine, and travel down through the low back, across the back of each buttock, down into the lower extremities.

See Figure 1. See Cauda Equina Syndrome. Neurologic deficits at segmental levels suggest a spinal cord disorder. Similar deficits, especially if unilateral, may result from nerve root or peripheral nerve disorders, which can usually be differentiated clinically. Level and pattern of spinal cord dysfunction help determine presence and location of a spinal cord lesion but not always type of lesion.

Incidence and Prevalence

MRI is the most accurate imaging test for spinal cord disorders; MRI shows spinal cord parenchyma, soft-tissue lesions eg, abscesses, hematomas, tumors, abnormalities involving intervertebral disks , and bone lesions eg, erosion, severe hypertrophic changes, collapse, fracture, subluxation, tumors. It is not as accurate as MRI and is more invasive but may be more readily available and may be needed for patients who are unable to undergo MRI eg, due to permanent pacemaker. From developing new therapies that treat and prevent disease to helping people in need, we are committed to improving health and well-being around the world.

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Videos Figures Images Quizzes. Commonly Searched Drugs. Symptoms and Signs. Test your knowledge. Patients with Huntington disease most likely have symptoms that include a puppet-like gait, facial grimacing, and which of the following?

Spinal Infections

Add to Any Platform. Click here for Patient Education. Spinal nerve. Paralysis of legs, wrists, and hands, but shoulder movement and elbow flexion usually possible.

Spinal cord dysfunction causes. Autonomic dysfunction eg, bowel, bladder, and erectile dysfunction; loss of sweating. Spinal Cord Syndromes Syndrome. Unilateral spinal cord lesions, typically due to penetrating trauma. Transverse myelopathy. Was This Page Helpful? Yes No.

Clear Explanations of Cervical Spine Conditions Causing Neck Pain

Acute Transverse Myelitis. Respiratory paralysis Quadriplegia. Between C5 and C6. Paralysis of legs, wrists, and hands Weakness of shoulder abduction and elbow flexion Loss of biceps jerk reflex Loss of brachioradialis deep tendon reflex.


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Between C6 and C7. Between C7 and C8.

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Loss of triceps jerk reflex Paralysis of legs and hands. Horner syndrome constricted pupil, ptosis, facial anhidrosis Paralysis of legs. Between T1 and conus medullaris. Paralysis of legs. Anterior cord syndrome. Central cord syndrome affecting the cervical spinal cord. Paresis tending to be more severe in the upper extremities than in the lower extremities and sacral regions Tendency to lose pain and temperature sensation in a capelike distribution over the upper neck, shoulders, and upper trunk, with light touch, position, and vibratory sensation relatively preserved dissociated sensory loss.

Conus medullaris syndrome. Lesions around L1.