The spinal cord is a major route of interaction between the brain and other parts of the body. It is a neurological tube that serves as a collection of neural pathways. It is contained in the bones of the spine (vertebrae) for protection. These bones are separated by disks made of cartilage to serve as cushion and allow for smooth movement.
The spine is divided into 5 segments Cervical (neck), Thoracic (chest), Lumbar (lower back), Sacral (pelvis) and the coccyx.
Spinal disorders are a wide spectrum of disease that affect the spine which could be anatomical, infectious, traumatic, degenerative etc. These disorders could arise from any of the components of the spine and the symptoms could suggest the location of the problem and extent of involvement.
Spinal disorder could originate from outside the cord or within the cord.
Outside the cord: they consist of disorders that arise from the structures surrounding the cord or injuries to these structures. This could cause cord compression.
Cord compression could be due to the displacement or degeneration of the disk between the spinal bones (subluxation, spondylosis), narrowing of the vertebral canal (spinal stenosis) fracture of the spinal bone, collection of blood (hematoma) or pus (abscess), or a tumour.
Within the cord: this is less common and can be caused by any of the following
- Obstruction of blood supply
- Nutritional deficiencies like vitamin B12 or Copper
- Infections like Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), syphilis, tuberculosis/
- Multiple Sclerosis
The symptoms of spinal disorders depend on where the problem lies. Typically, these symptoms are not present in the part of the spinal cord above the problem. The part of the spinal cord affected and below the lesion usually have the symptoms which could include:
- Inability or reduced ability to feel touch, pain, heat or cold, vibration or realize the position of the arms or legs
- Muscle weakness
- Reduced/loss of bladder or bowel control (urinary or faecal incontinence)
- Pins and needles (paraethesia)
- Erectile dysfunction
- Back pain
- Changes in reflexes
Symptoms might be sudden or progressively worsen to demonstrate the extent of the problem
If you have any of the symptoms listed, you should visit you doctor immediately.
Diagnosis is based on the symptoms presented with, physical examination by the doctor and investigations carried out.
Your doctor examines you to have a clue to what is wrong and require your take scans, most often x-ray, magnetic resonance image or computed tomography.
The treatment depends on the condition specifically. It entails preventing the progression of the condition, relieving the compression by fixing the cause and ensuring maximal restoration of function.
Surgery, medications and radiotherapy are relevant in treatment of spinal disorder while physical and occupational therapy are useful for rehabilitation to restore function and improve quality of life.