Spinal problems refer to diseases or injuries that affect the spine, such as spinal stenosis. They cause symptoms that include lower back pain, numbness, and tingling sensations.

There are many types of spinal conditions that may cause pain and discomfort, and these conditions can result from:

  • genetics
  • aging
  • accidents
  • injuries

Spinal conditions may cause back pain, which is one of the most common medical problems. People in the United States collectively spend around $200 billion per year to manage it.

Keep reading to learn more about common spinal conditions and their treatments.

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A spinal condition is a disease or injury that mainly affects the back or spine. The spine consists of five regions:

  • cervical spine
  • thoracic spine
  • lumbar spine
  • sacrum
  • coccyx

Most people are born with 33 vertebral bones, but some bones in the coccyx fuse together throughout childhood. This means that adults have 24 vertebrae.

Spinal conditions can cause discomfort, pain, and issues with mobility.

Specialists, such as orthopedic doctors and surgeons, concentrate on helping people with spinal conditions.

Chiropractors may also help with back problems but are not medical doctors and cannot diagnose conditions or provide prescription treatments.

Symptoms of a spinal condition depend on the diagnosis. However, spinal problems may cause one or more of the following symptoms:

  • back and neck pain
  • numbness
  • tingling sensation
  • pain in the legs, arms, or both

Some common conditions include:

Spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a disease in which the space in the spinal canal decreases. This narrowing can lead to the compression of structures within the spinal canal, such as the spinal cord, nerve tissue, and cerebrospinal fluid.

Treatment of spinal stenosis depends on the location of the disease along the spine and its symptoms. Treatment options include:

  • physical therapy
  • medication
  • steroid injections
  • surgery

Herniated disk

A herniated disk is an injury to the disks in between each vertebra. Other names for this condition include a slipped or ruptured disk. These disks have a soft center that is surrounded by a harder exterior. A herniated disk is when the soft center pushes through the hard exterior.

Treatment of a herniated disk depends on the type and severity of its symptoms. Common treatments include physical therapy and surgery.


Scoliosis refers to a sideways curve in the lumbar or thoracic spine that typically occurs during adolescence. Most cases of scoliosis are mild but can worsen with age. Severe cases can become disabling and may reduce the size of the chest cavity and cause breathing problems.

Doctors will not always treat scoliosis. In severe cases, someone may require:

  • casts
  • braces
  • physical therapy

Cervical spondylosis

Cervical spondylosis refers to a shortening of disk height and can affect any part of the spine. This disease sometimes leads to a pinched nerve, in which the nerve becomes compressed.

The treatment of cervical spondylosis depends on the severity of its symptoms and can include:

  • exercises
  • medications
  • physical therapy
  • surgery

Spinal osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a form of arthritis in which the cartilage covering the ends of bone wears down over time. This causes friction with neighboring bones, leading to pain and discomfort. Spinal osteoarthritis occurs in the spine, but osteoarthritis can also affect other areas, such as the hands, knees, and hips.

The first-line treatments for spinal osteoarthritis aim to decrease pain, increase mobility, and strengthen neighboring muscles. They can include:

  • over-the-counter pain medications
  • strengthening exercises
  • aerobic exercises
  • physical therapy
  • massages
  • weight loss

More invasive treatments are sometimes necessary and include:

  • joint injections
  • medial branch nerve ablation
  • surgery


Sciatica refers to pain that travels along the sciatic nerve from the lower back and down each leg. However, the pain is usually isolated to one side of the body. Sciatica can be the result of a pinched nerve due to a herniated disk or bone spur.

The treatment of sciatica could include the use of hot or cold packs to decrease inflammation. Gentle stretching and exercise can sometimes help.

More severe forms of sciatica require different treatments, including:


Kyphosis is a disease that increases the forward curvature of the thoracic spine. All spines have some degree of curvature, but people with kyphosis have a curvature of 50 degrees or more.

Treatment of kyphosis depends on the severity of the curve. People with curves under 60 degrees may receive physical therapy to strengthen the back and abdominal muscles. People with more severe curves may require braces to straighten the spine or surgery.

Spinal cord injury

A spinal cord injury is when the bundle of cells and nerves at the end of the spinal canal becomes damaged. These nerves receive signals from the brain and transmit this information to the rest of the body.

Severe damage can lead to paralysis, which is either tetraplegia or paraplegia. Tetraplegia refers to paralysis below the neck. Paraplegia refers to paralysis affecting the lower body.

Informing a doctor of any pain or feelings of discomfort is the first step in receiving a diagnosis. The doctor will conduct tests to assess mobility, which might include a neurological examination. They might also order medical imaging tests, including:

The causes and risk factors for a spinal problem include:

  • accidents or falls
  • violence
  • genetics,
  • being overweight or obese
  • poor posture
  • nutrition and lifestyle habits such as smoking
  • age-related changes e.g. spinal degeneration, reduced activtiy

Anyone who has persistent back pain should see a doctor for a checkup. This is particularly important after an accident or injury, which could indicate a fracture.

There are many diseases that affect the spine. They can affect the bones, nerves, or surrounding tissues as well. Many causes of back pain are treatable, but some are lifelong conditions.

The important role the spine plays in movement means that any pain in this area is worth seeing a doctor.