The spine is a complex part of the body. It is composed of vertebrae, muscles, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, blood vessels, and nerves. All of these parts are connected to one another to provide stability and support for the body, protect the spinal cord and nerves from injury, and withstand compression and promote movement in many different directions.
However, with the required movement, the spine can begin to break down and lose its support and functionality. One potential area of injury is the ligaments that connect the bones in the spine to one another. This type of injury is referred to as a sprain. Back sprains are a common injury that can occur from a variety of reasons, and it is important to monitor them to make sure a more serious issue does not develop.
How does a Sprain Occur?
Sprains are most commonly seen in the neck and lower spine and occur when spinal ligaments are overloaded or overstretched. Ligaments are made up of connective tissues that are woven together to form strong bands designed to withstand high amounts of force. They are tasked with connecting bones to other bones to provide stability and limit unwanted movement.
When ligaments do become sprained, the affected joint can become unstable. Ligaments are not designed to stretch like muscles and other fibers. Because of this, sprains can be difficult to heal as the ligament is rarely able to return to its original length.
Sprains can occur for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, a single event may cause the injury. This can include a fall, twist, or impact that causes the spine to move slightly out of alignment.
What Factors make Sprains more Likely?
In addition to these events, there are a few things that can increase a person’s risk for sprains. One of these is having an excessive curvature of the lower back. Overarching of the lumbar spine is also known as lordosis, and this can place uneven pressure on the lower vertebrae, making them more susceptible to sprains.
Being overweight can also make you more prone to spinal injuries and sprains. The additional weight increases the overall forces on the spine. And, if weight is distributed unevenly, it can cause pressure on certain joints and increase injury risk.
Muscle weakness or imbalances can also increase the risk of spinal ligament sprains. This is commonly seen with abdominal muscle weakness. If the muscles in the front of your abdomen are not strong, it can result in lordosis and extra strain being placed on the vertebrae. Additionally, weakness or tightness in the muscles on the back of your thighs can also increase injury risk. These muscles are known as the hamstrings, and if they are tight or weak, they can cause your hips to be misaligned and force your spine to curve unnaturally.
Diagnosis, Symptoms, and Treatment
The negative side effects that often accompany sprains include pain in the affected joint that gets worse with movement, muscle spasms, and difficulty moving in certain directions. These symptoms may also be accompanied by headaches or weakness in the spine, arms, or legs.
Sprains are measured in three categories: first degree, second degree, and third degree. First-degree sprains are minor and can generally be treated with rest, ice, compression, and elevation, also known as the RICE method. However, more severe sprains involve partial or full tears of the ligaments and can result in higher levels of pain and inflammation in the spine and surrounding area.
Diagnoses are generally made by your physician based on the symptoms you are exhibiting. They will most likely be looking for stiffness, limited range of motion, pain with certain motions, and muscle weakness. These injuries are often treated with anti-inflammatory pain medications, muscle relaxants, or physical therapy.
However, if your physician feels that the injury could be more severe, they could conduct a series of tests to determine the full extent of the spinal injury.
What is a Herniated Disc?
In between each set of vertebrae is a spinal disc with a hard outer layer and soft inner layer. A herniation occurs when the spine is compressed and a tear develops in the outer layer, allowing the inner layer to leak out and place pressure on the spinal nerves.
The symptoms of disc herniations are similar to those of sprains, but numbness or tingling is often felt in the arms or legs as well. If your physician does feel that your injury could be more severe, then MRIs, x-rays, and other tests can be used to visualize the spine and understand the full extent of the injury.
If a herniation has occurred, many of the non-invasive treatments are again similar. However, the Discseel® procedure provides an alternative treatment to surgery that helps to restore the damaged tissues and their functionality using a stem cell and fibrin injection.
If you do suffer from pain in your spine and the surrounding areas, you should be sure to visit your physician to get the appropriate diagnosis and treatment early on to prevent your injury from worsening.