The spine is made up of a column of 24 individual bones called vertebrae, and these sit on the sacrum, which consists of 5 vertebrae fused together. Between each bone, acting as a shock absorber and separating the bones preventing them from rubbing together too much, are inter vertebral discs.
Spinal injuries result from trauma or disease affecting these two components. Fractures to the bones can occur as a direct result of a forceful injury, however they can occur at a microscopic level in conditions such as Osteoporosis and Pagets disease.
In these disorders multiple tiny fractures occur because of a change in the structure of the bony tissue. Many tiny fractures can eventually lead to the vertebra collapsing. Fractures can also occur when there are tumors in the bones. All fractures can normally be detected on X-ray, so this would be the first test to have done.
Another problem involving the vertebrae is a condition known as Spondylolisthesis. This is when one vertebra slides forward on the one below, with symptoms varying according to the degree of forward shift. It can be serious if the spinal cord, which runs in the central canal of the vertebra, is stretched or compressed in any way.
The condition can occur following trauma, but is often seen in its mild form on routine X-ray suggesting the patient was born with the condition. There is in this instance a weakness caused by the absence of part of a vertebral bone called the Par.
Spinal Bifida is another congenital condition which has sometimes been found in the same way. Spinal Bifida is where one or several of the lower vertebrae have failed to fuse together centrally during the foetal developmental stage. It can be symptom less or in severe cases because of the absence of the central part of the bone, the neural tissue (spinal cord and nerves) can be exposed to the exterior leaving it vulnerable to infections and trauma. Unfortunately in very severe cases the baby can die soon after birth.
Injuries to the inter vertebral discs are discussed more fully under the heading Slipped Disc.
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