Structure of your spine

The spine or backbone represents the portion of your skeleton that stretches down the middle of your back. It functions to hold up the head, to provide your body with upright posture for moving around on two legs and to act as a firm tunnel-like cover over your spinal cord.
Our spine contains 33 vertebra bones with the ones at the bottom of the spine (coccygeal area) being fused together. The vertebral regions consists of 7 neck (cervical), 12 chest (thoracic), 5 lower back (lumbar), 5 pelvis (sacral), and 4 tailbone (coccygeal) vertebrae. The vertebra bones fit snuggly next to each other like puzzle pieces.
The muscles function with ligaments to sustain the spine, keep it upright and regulate movement. Muscles receive their names from their shape, location or a combination of these two descriptors along with action categories like flexion (bent toward the body), extension (extend away from the body) or rotation (rotate or turn around). For example, the erector spinae, two muscle groups running parallel on each side of the spine (spinae is Latin for spine), receive their named from the location.
Tendons refer to fibrous tissues that attach the muscle to the bone. Without tendons, the muscles would fail to sit neatly compressed next to the spinal bones.
Ligaments describe strong bands that connect two bones. The function of these bands is to hold the individual vertebrae segments together in the backbone.
The cartilage or discs provide a cushion between the vertebrae (spine bones). These discs, located between ever vertebrae, act as spongy pads filled with gel-like fluid to protect the bones from rubbing against each other. You hear a lot about ruptured discs or slipped disc in the back and these will be described later.

Specific Conditions of the Spine

Problems arise with the structures of the spine when the puzzle pieces (bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, or cartilage) fail to fit snuggly together (in alignment). These structural changes or damages to the vertebrae and surrounding tissue can create difficulty for the health of the spine. These problems, to name a few, include such factors as injuries, non-injury conditions, and changes occurring with age. The paragraphs below discuss some of the back problems.

Injury Cause

Injuries frequently occur to the back such as slipped or ruptured discs. In fact, 80 percent of adults complain of back pain at least once during their life time. For on-the-job injuries, back pain leads the cause of disability claims.
Bulging or ruptured disc describes a condition of damage to the cartilage (disc) between two vertebrae. When the outer edges of a disc become injured or slides out of place, the middle section protrudes (bulges) out between the spinal bone; whereas, if the middle section burst open completely, a ruptured disc ensues. Lifting objects with inappropriate posture and body mechanics produces a bulk of these disc injuries. The common sites for disc injury comprise the neck (cervical vertebrae) and the lower back (lumbar vertebrae). This situation causes pain, numbness or weakness down an extremity. One might hear of other terms for these conditions, slipped disc to refer to bulging disc and herniated disc to signify a ruptured disc. Your doctor may suggest application of hot or cold packs, limited activity and basic pain medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen for your slipped disc in the early stages. As the situation improves, stretching or strengthening exercises help return the back to normal. If your condition fails to improve, your doctor may suggest surgery. A discectomy surgery usually treats symptomatic ruptured disc, but the surgeon can advise on the best treatment options.

Non-injury Causes

Scoliosis appears as abnormal curves in the spine of unknown cause. When looking at a person’s back, the spine should look straight and not deviate to the left or right; though the spine does curve forward and backward slightly in places. People with scoliosis show additional curves to the left or right when observed from behind. The condition affects 2 percent of females and 0.5 percent of t males. The treatment depends upon the severity of the curves and the risk of progressing; your provider can suggest observation, bracing, or surgery to treat scoliosis.
Spondylolysis describes a condition where a defect (thin bone) exists in the vertebrae at a specific area on the bone, called the Pars Interarticularis. When the bone breaks at the Pars Interarticularis, the condition is called spondylolysis. The pars interarticularis resides on the back of the vertebrae. Spondylolysis represents the most common reason for low back pain in teenagers and the defect shows up with a fracture on the fifth lumbar vertebrae. Genetics may play a part in appearance of the condition; or participation in certain sports (causing constant overstretching of the spine), like gymnastics, weight lifting and football, put stress on these bones resulting in fractures. X-rays diagnosis the condition. Since sports activities remain the chief cause, initial treatment involves ceasing the activity until the pain subsides and using anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen. Surgery becomes necessary if non-surgical treatment fails. The surgery can suggest a spinal fusion with or without an internal brace of screws and rods to hold together the bones as it heals.

Changes Occurring with Age

Degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis affects the discs between the vertebrae causing damage or deterioration of this structure. The discs loose the spongy cushion and the bones rub together causing pain, swelling and stiffness in either the cervical spine of the neck or the lumbar spine of the lower back. The condition gets worse as one ages. Treatment varies from such examples as lifestyle modifications, medications, physical therapy and surgery.