Each year, on the October 16, we celebrate World Spine Day to underscore the importance of spinal health and overall well-being. This observance also highlights the significance of engaging in physical activity, maintaining correct posture, adopting safe lifting methods, and creating healthy working environments. Additionally, its primary goal is to inspire individuals to prioritize their spinal health and stay physically active.
On this occasion, let us have a look at some common spine disorders that affect children, youth and the elderly as well as know about the neurological disorders affecting spine.
Paediatric Spine Disorders
Dr Harmanjit Singh Shah, who is a Senior Consultant – Paediatric Orthopaedic at Madhukar Rainbow Hospital, Delhi said, “Paediatric spine disorders include a variety of conditions that have an impact on a child’s spinal column. Incorrect posture, persistent back pain, uneven shoulders, or restricted mobility are all potential warning signs. Apart from that, genetic disorders and even injuries could lead to spinal problems.”
Promoting healthy habits from a young age is essential for preventing paediatric spine disorders. A healthy spine can be established by promoting good posture and stressing the value of regular exercise. The risk of spinal problems can also be reduced by making sure children use comfortable furniture and backpacks appropriate for their age and size.
“Early detection through routine visits to a paediatrician or an orthopaedic specialist can prevent the increasing risk of a spine disease. The prevalence of a spine disease, called Scoliosis, is very common in children and hence, early screening is crucial to cure it. Its progression can be stopped with early intervention such as bracing or other treatments,” said Dr Harmanjit.
Common Spine Disorders In Youth
Dr. Amrithlal A Mascarenhas,who is a Consultant – Spine Surgery, at Manipal Hospital, Millers Road, Bangalore said, “Young people often experience a different set of spinal disorders, mainly related to congenital abnormalities such as hemivertebra or block vertebra. These conditions occur when spinal bones do not develop properly, either remain fused or fail to separate, leading to deformities like kyphosis or scoliosis. Additionally, nerve disorders like tethering of the spinal cord can occur, where the spinal cord is fixed to the lowermost part of the spine, failing to achieve its normal upward migration. It may potentially cause spinal cord injury as the child grows. Immunity-related issues may affect infants and small children, leading to spine infections like tuberculosis.”
“Among adolescents, breakage in the spine can happen without any trauma or injury, which is medically termed spondylolysis or a break in the pars interarticularis. This can lead to vertebral slippage, a common issue observed in young adults. Repetitive stress injuries in the spine can also occur in highly active and athletic individuals which may result in subtle bone fractures. This is commonly seen in cricketers, football players, weightlifters, and other athletes. Young adults can also suffer from issues like disc degeneration, disc herniation, or slipped discs,” added Dr. Amrithlal.
Common Spine Disorders In The Elderly People
The elderly population faces a distinct set of spinal issues. They often have weak bones, a condition known as osteoporosis which makes them susceptible to fractures from very minor injuries, which can take longer to heal and may result in spinal collapse and nerve compression.
Dr. Amrithlal said, “Osteoporosis demands serious medical attention. Even minor falls should be considered significant events, necessitating X-rays or MRI scans to assess potential damage. Another common issue in the elderly is degeneration. Joints in the spine can have wear and tear, leading to bone slippage and thickening of joints, discs, and ligaments within the spinal canal – all of which can ultimately cause nerve compression.
“Elderly individuals are also prone to malignancies or cancers. Cancers originating elsewhere in the body can spread to the bones, with the spine being the most commonly affected bone. On many occasions, individuals with cancer in another part of the body get identified when presenting with back pain as the first symptom, eventually revealing spinal involvement due to cancer elsewhere. Additionally, the elderly people also have low immunity which increases their susceptibility to infections, such as tuberculosis or other bacterial infections which can form pus in the spine, necessitating emergency surgery,” added the doctor.
Neurological Disorders Affecting Spine
Dr. Jayakrishnan Pillai, who is an Orthopedic surgeon at Apollo Spectra Hospital, Bangalore spoke about Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) which is a serious neurological disorder affecting spine.
“ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that primarily affects motor neurons that control muscle movement, including those in the spinal cord. This disorder gradually deteriorates muscle control, affecting a person’s ability to speak, eat, move, and breathe. It develops when motor neurons in the spinal cord and brain begin to degenerate, causing a disruption in the signals sent to muscles. The muscles they control weaken and atrophy as the neurons die. This causes symptoms such as muscle stiffness, twitching, and difficulty performing basic tasks. The impact on the spine is especially significant because it houses a large portion of these motor neurons,” said Dr. Jayakrishnan.
“While the precise cause of ALS is unknown, a combination of genetic and environmental factors are thought to play a role in its development. Unfortunately, there is no cure for ALS at the moment. Treatments primarily focus on symptom management, support, and improving a patient’s quality of life through a variety of therapeutic interventions and assistive devices. As the disease progresses, the spine’s involvement becomes more pronounced, eventually leading to paralysis and respiratory failure. This neurological disorder serves as a stark reminder of the intricate relationship between the nervous system and the spinal cord, emphasizing the difficulties and complexities that such conditions entail,” the doctor added.
Talking about other neurological disorders affecting spine, Dr Naveen who is an M A, HOD & Sr Consultant Neuro & Spine Surgeon, at Gleneagles Hospitals Kengeri, Bengaluru said, “The human spine is a marvel of nature, providing structural support and protection to the delicate spinal cord. However, this vital part of our anatomy is not immune to the impact of neurological disorders.”
He listed out how various neurological disorders can affect the spine and, consequently, our overall well-being.
- Spinal Cord Injury (SCI): One of the most devastating neurological conditions that can afflict the spine is a spinal cord injury (SCI). These injuries can result from accidents, falls, or other trauma, and they often lead to a range of symptoms, from partial paralysis to loss of sensation below the injury site. The severity of these effects depends on the location and extent of the damage to the spinal cord.
- Spinal Stenosis: Spinal stenosis is a condition where the spinal canal narrows, compressing the spinal cord or nerve roots. This narrowing can be caused by age-related changes, such as the thickening of ligaments or the formation of bone spurs resulting in pain, weakness, and other neurological symptoms in the affected area.
- Herniated Discs: Herniated discs occur when the soft inner material (nucleus pulposus) of an intervertebral disc pushes through the outer layer and presses on nearby nerves in the spinal canal or the neural foramina. The pressure on the spinal cord and the nerve roots can lead to severe pain, tingling and paresthesia, muscle weakness and bowel, bladder disturbances at later stages.
- Spinal Tumors: Both benign and malignant tumors can develop within the spinal cord or its surrounding structures. As these tumors grow, they can impinge on the spinal cord or nerve roots, causing neurological dysfunction in the areas they affect.
- Syringomyelia: Syringomyelia is a rare condition where a fluid-filled cyst (syrinx) forms within the spinal cord. This cyst can compress and damage the spinal cord from within the central canal leading to pain, weakness in the limbs and smaller muscles.
- Cauda Equina Syndrome: This rare but serious condition occurs due to compression of the nerve roots at the lower end of the spinal cord. The symptoms include back pain, bladder & bowel dysfunction, saddle anesthesia and sexual dysfunction.
In conclusion, the spine plays a pivotal role in our daily lives, and when neurological disorders affect it, the consequences can be grievous. However, advances in medical science continue to offer hope for those affected by these conditions, as researchers work tirelessly to find new treatments and therapies to mitigate the impact of spinal-related neurological disorders
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