The spine is a structure composed of bone and cartilage that protects the spinal cord, a bundle of nerves that connects the brain to the rest of the body. The spine enables people to walk and maintain balance; disorders in this part of the body cause motor and other signs.
In this article we will describe in a synthetic way the main characteristics of 11 of the main diseases of the spine , such as spina bifida, scoliosis, multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
Disorders of the spine can be due to many different causes, from failure of intrauterine development to viral or bacterial infections.
However, since we are referring to the same region of the nervous system, many of the disorders we will describe cause similar symptoms, such as muscle paralysis and stiffness.
Scoliosis is one of the most common spinal diseases, especially in women. It is characterized by the curvature of the spine , which may worsen over the years; in milder cases this alteration does not cause greater complications, but if the degree of deviation is high it may interfere with breathing.
2. Lumbar spinal stenosis
Lumbar spinal stenosis consists of a narrowing of the spinal canal, which in turn causes an understanding of the spinal cord and lumbar nerves, causing pain. It is a degenerative disorder generally associated with aging , although it can also appear as a consequence of alterations such as achondroplasia or dwarfism.
3. Spina bifida
Sometimes the spine does not close completely during intrauterine development; when this happens a part of the spinal cord is partially uncovered . Most often the alteration is in the lower part of the back. Although severe cases are associated with multiple problems, 10-20% of people are born with some degree of spina bifida.
4. Horsetail syndrome
The ponytail (“cauda equina”) is a set of spinal nerves located in the lower back. Damage in this region causes signs such as muscle weakness, paralysis, gait disturbances and sciatic pain due to the appearance of dysfunctions in the lower motor neurons of this part of the spinal cord.
5. Chiari malformation
Chiari malformations are structural defects of the cerebellum, a region of the brain that plays a key role in motor coordination. Sometimes during pregnancy some of the cerebellar nerve tissue slips through the foramen magnum , the hole that connects the base of the skull to the spine. The symptoms vary depending on the severity.
6. Transverse myelitis
Transverse myelitis is defined as inflammation of the spinal cord. This disorder involves motor symptoms and signs such as muscle weakness and paralysis, as well as sensory deficits (e.g. the occurrence of pain sensations in the absence of stimulation). It is mainly associated with infections, tumours, vascular disorders and multiple sclerosis.
7. Multiple sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis is the most common neurological disorder in adults. It is a disease related to the progressive degeneration of the myelin sheaths that line the axons of many neurons, allowing efficient transmission of nerve impulses. This causes muscular, sensory and psychological symptoms that worsen over time.
8. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
This disease consists of the destruction of neurons involved in voluntary muscle movement. The main symptoms and signs are rigidity, atrophy and other alterations of the muscles, which lead to increasing difficulties in swallowing food and liquids , in speaking and even in breathing; this last problem often leads to death.
9. Ankylosing spondylitis
Ankylosing spondylitis is a subtype of arthritis characterized by inflammation of the joints between bones in the spine, usually in the region where the spine meets the pelvis. It is believed to be due to disorders related to the immune system and pathological inflammation of tissues. Stiffness and back pain increase progressively.
10. Spondylosis (degenerative disc disease)
Spondylosis consists of the gradual degeneration of the intervertebral discs and the cartilage that protects the junction points between the vertebrae. It is common in older people since normal aging involves this process to a greater or lesser degree. Sometimes it affects the marrow and nerves, compressing them progressively.
“Kyphosis” is a term used to refer to the normal curvature of the spine when it is directed from the inside to the outside of the body. If the curvature is equal or greater than 45 degrees the spine loses the ability to move inward (lordosis), causing postural changes, pain and occasionally deformation and breathing problems.