Lower Spine Injuries
Lumbar injuries rarely involve the spinal cord but can still be debilitating.
The lumbar spine plays a crucial weight-bearing role in our body’s movements and is comprised of the five vertebrae in your low back, situated just above the pelvis.
Between every pair of vertebrae is a circular disc, called an intervertebral disc, which serves as a cushion and absorbs shock. One of the functions of the vertebrae and discs is to protect your spinal cord, which travels from the base of your skull down the spinal column and ends in the area where your thoracic spine (that’s your midback from the base of your neck downward) meets your lumbar spine.
The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that 60 to 80 percent of the adult American population suffers from low back pain, and it is the leading cause of disability in Americans under the age of 45.
Injuries to the lower spine could be the result of a number of conditions, a few of which include:
- Muscle problems – Such as a muscle strain from heavy lifting, bending awkwardly, or overuse
- Degenerative disc disease – Not really a disease, this term is used to describe the normal deterioration of intervertebral discs over time
- Herniated discs – Sometimes also called a “slipped” disc, this occurs when the soft material inside an intervertebral disc is pushed outside the disc, such as with a tear
- Joint dysfunction – Any problems with the sacroiliac joint, located at the bottom of the lumbar spine and just above the tailbone, can restrict or alter normal movement
Other diseases, cancer and trauma are additional causes of damage to the lower spine. Also, it is common for many conditions in the lumbar spine to be interrelated, meaning a problem with one aspect of the spine can often lead to others.
Lower spine injuries have the potential to be extremely painful when the injury involves nerve compression. This means an element, such as a disc or vertebra, is putting pressure on a nerve.
Treatment for a low back injury depends on the exact nature of the condition. Most injuries involve a fracture of the bone or a herniated disc, and these cases can often be treated without the need for surgery. On the other hand, conditions involving instability or collapse of the spinal column, or pinched nerves will require an operation, the goal of which is to remove whatever is causing pressure, and to realign and stabilize the spine. Sometimes this requires bone grafts or the implantation of screws and rods.
According to MedlinePlus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, injuries occurring to the lower back can affect one or both legs, as well as the muscles that control the bladder and bowels. Lower spine injuries only rarely cause spinal cord injury, since many nerves end in this area or just above it. This cluster of nerve roots is called the cauda equina, and therefore an injury to the cluster of nerve roots is called cauda equina syndrome.