Glossary of Terms for Neuroscience and Spine
Back pain remains one of the most common reasons for patients to visit a health care provider. When a patient's symptoms of back pain do not easily resolve or require a specialist's care, they come to The Comprehensive Spine Program. Here, we use imaging and clinical expertise to accurately assess, diagnose and treat our patients. Our goal is always to provide the best treatment options available to restore optimal function for our patients. The Comprehensive Spine Program includes experts in the field of neurosurgery and physical medicine and rehabilitation to provide a full spectrum of care that uses traditional and nontraditional methods of helping to restore patients’ function and quality of life.
Just like back pain, neck pain can be caused by multiple factors. Often caused by aging or trauma, neck pain can interfere with work, sleep and the usual daily activities we take for granted. Our dedicated team at The Comprehensive Spine Program treats a variety of spine conditions. Whether your problem is new or has been present for a long time, we will work with you to accurately diagnose and develop treatment options. Our experts are ready to help you reduce your pain and return to an active lifestyle.
Disc herniations occur when the disc that functions as a shock absorber between your vertebrae is disrupted by the constant wear and tear of aging, or by more acute stresses upon the disc. The discs have two main components: the inner portion, called the nucleus, and the outer portion, called the annulus. The discs function much like the tires on your car. The air cushions the car but is held in by the tires. The inner nucleus is like the air. It cushions the vertebrae and is held in by the annulus – just like your tires. As we age, the discs lose water content and tend to lose their ability to cushion the spine. As they wear out, the annulus will weaken, just like a bulge in a tire. As it progresses, it may herniate or “blow out” just like a tire will do as it wears out. The annulus will tear and the nucleus will protrude through this area. When this happens, disc material may press on a nerve, which can lead to pain in an extremity such as the arm or leg depending on where the injury occurs. This also may lead to more concerning neurological problems, which your provider will recognize and instruct you on appropriate treatment.
Degenerative Disc Disease
As we age, the joints of our bodies tend to show their wear and tear with arthritis. The discs that cushion our vertebrae in our spines undergo similar degradation. The discs lose their support and ability to cushion the spine. When they do, they flatten and degenerate. This change can often be accompanied by disc bulging, bone spurs and arthritis that can then compress nerves, leading to numbness, pain or weakness.
Stenosis is the medical term for “narrowing.” Our nerves travel through our spine to supply electrical signals to our organs, muscles and skin. When the openings or pathways for these nerves become narrowed within the spine due to degenerative changes, the term stenosis is used to describe these findings. Spinal stenosis can only be found by imaging the spine – often using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which can provide greater detail than X-ray alone. Depending on the severity of the stenosis, your provider may prescribe physical therapy, medications, medicine injected into the spine, surgery or other alternative treatments.
Scoliosis refers to an abnormal curvature of the spine, which occurs in a side-to-side orientation. Scoliosis often occurs in young people as their bones begin to grow and mature. In this instance, it is referred to as idiopathic adolescent scoliosis. In older adults, scoliosis can occur from degeneration of the discs and joints that help stabilize the spine. In either occurrence, scoliosis may lead to deformity, back pain, balance difficulties, breathing problems and other issues related to the abnormal curvature. Depending on the severity of the curvature and the effects, various treatments may be offered to help reduce the progression of the disease, or interventions designed to correct the deformity.
Spinal Fracture and Trauma
In our region, spine trauma is common. Whether it is a fall on the ice or an accident on the slopes, many people suffer traumatic injury to their spine. Frequently, this results in fractures of the vertebrae in the spine, which can lead to further neurological symptoms, pain and instability of the spine. Our spine team offers the full spectrum of nonoperative and operative treatments available to address all types of spinal trauma.
Spinal Cord Injury
Spine trauma can result in temporary or permanent neurological injury to the spinal cord. An extension of our brains, the spinal cord is the pathway for signals from the brain to travel to the rest of our bodies. It is essential in allowing many of our muscles and organs to function properly. When injured, these essential pathways can be disrupted, resulting in weakness, paralysis or other dysfunction. Sometimes emergent surgical intervention is warranted. When this occurs, we recommend the complete spectrum of surgical interventions needed to bring about the best results for our patients. In addition, we offer a rehabilitation team of specialists in spinal cord injury to help our patients and their families adjust to the changes that can come with debilitating injuries such as this.
This term refers to inflammation and irritation of the spinal cord. Myelopathy can occur due to disc herniations, severe degenerative disc disease and other mechanical compression of the spinal cord. When this occurs, the spinal cord may develop inflammation or injury that can lead to neurological dysfunction. This can represent an urgent surgical condition to prevent further nerve injury. This may present as muscle weakness, difficulty walking, changes in handwriting, trouble holding on to objects, falls, and bowel and bladder dysfunction. This is diagnosed by careful physical examination and often with MRI imaging.
Chiari malformation is a condition where the brain tissue near the base of the skull can extend into the spinal canal. In many people this can be an incidental finding on imaging of the brain and spinal cord. However, in a subset of the population, this can manifest with neurological findings that do not respond to conservative treatments. In these instances, surgery may be the only option to alleviate the patient’s symptoms. Our surgeons have an extensive breadth of experience in treating this condition and can offer sound advice on the best approach to treatment.