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Learn about your back

Inova's Spine Program-Spinal cord diagram image

Your back is one of the most complex areas in your body. It is made up of interconnecting nerves, bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons, each of which can be a source of pain. More than 80 percent of American adults will experience some form of neck or back pain during their lives.

Major regions of the back

Cervical spine (neck)

The cervical spine begins at the base of the skull. It consists of seven vertebrae and eight pairs of cervical nerves.

Cervical pain can result from a slipped disc, osteoporosis, scoliosis and, in rare cases, structural damage due to tumors or infection. Trauma or injury, such as whiplash, can cause neck pain that takes months to improve.

Thoracic spine

The thoracic spine is the long middle portion of the back and the longest portion of the spinal column. It consists of 12 vertebrae. The ribs of the chest connect to the thoracic spine, protecting vital organs in the torso.

Thoracic pain is often caused by fractures, especially in athletes and the elderly, osteoporosis, automobile accidents, falls or other trauma.

Lumbar spine

The lumbar spine, or low back, includes the five largest and strongest vertebrae. Between each vertebra is a gel-like disc that helps absorb pressure, distribute stress and keep the vertebrae from grinding against each other.

The low back is vulnerable to many pain-provoking disorders, ranging from simple strains to a herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis or spinal stenosis.

Common symptoms of spine conditions

  • Neck pain – persistent aching or stiffness; sharp, localized pain; pain that radiates into the arm or hand; acute arm pain; arm numbness or weakness
  • Back pain – persistent aching or stiffness; sharp, localized pain; pain that radiates down the legs and into the feet; acute leg pain; leg numbness or weakness
  • Hand pain – tingling, numbness or weakness
  • Imbalance – a hesitant or jerky gait
  • Bladder dysfunction and incontinence

Some conditions, such as carpal tunnel, neuropathy, and ataxia have similar symptoms of spinal disorders. Your physician will work with you and Inova's spine experts to make an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan for your condition.

© 2022 Inova Spine Pencil