The spinal cord is protected by the bones of the spine as it travels from the brain out to the arms and legs.
To exit from the bony tunnel of the spine itself, the spinal nerves travel through holes in the bones which are separated by discs or shock absorbers. If these nerves are squashed or pinched, this can cause pain, numbness, weakness or loss of function in the limbs.
There are many bones running up and down the spine, each separated by a jelly like core and tough outer fibrous structure called a disc.
The nerves travel to the left and right of the spine through a space called an intervertebral foramen. Either these nerves or the spine itself can be compressed by either further growth of bone, instability of the bone, or bulging or bursting of the disc and jelly substance.
The symptoms to be particularly aware of are:
- Weakness and numbness in arms and hands.
- Weakness and numbness in the legs or feet.
- Balance problems.
- Loss of function in the arms or legs.
- Pins and needles in the limbs.
- Neck pain.
- Diminishing bladder control.
After a thorough history and investigation you may be required to have an x-ray, CT scan or MRI to look more closely at the bone and soft tissue structures around the neck.
Rest and time cures most problems.
Non steroidal anti-inflammatory tablets or Corticosteroids may be used to reduce swelling and therefore, the amount of compression of the nerves. Physiotherapy is used to maintain range of motion or massage to release muscle tension.
Certain types of compression require surgery to prevent nerve damage becoming permanent or irreversible. Surgical options include removing excess bone, removing bulging discs, fusion or stiffening of bones to remove instability or replacing dysfunctional discs.
Surgery is very effective in certain instances but may not help all spinal conditions. It is important to discuss the details of your particular condition with your surgeon.