Neck and Cervical Spine
The cervical spine consists of seven vertebrae, that have soft disks in between them. As one ages, the disks can bulge or herniate and push against either the spinal cord itself, or the nerves that go into the shoulders, arm, or hand. Often times, patients do not have much neck pain but it is the pain shooting down the shoulder or arm that is more troublesome and is often accompanied with arm weakness. The disk or the vertebrae may form large spurs which push against the spinal cord or nerve roots. Some patients also develop arthritis or loss of disk space and lose the normal lordosis or curvature of the neck, and have difficulty holding their head up.
Low Back and Lumbar Spine
The low back has five lumbar vertebrae, each separated by disks. These disks can bulge or herniate into the spinal canal or nerve roots causing referred pain to shoot down the leg. Also, the disks themselves can degenerate or lose their compressive capabilities, which can cause back pain. This can progress to the point where the bones start to run on each other due to complete loss of the disk space. This can lead to a process called spondylolisthesis – spondylo meaning spine and listhesis meaning shift. This occurs when the superior (higher) vertebrae shifts forward on the one below it. This is an unstable spine, much like a broken forearm that moves around with motion, and can be very painful. This condition responds quite well to surgical intervention.