Healthy Living

What Are Urgent Spinal Conditions?

When suffering from a spinal or lower back condition it is important to spot the red flags that could suggest the condition is a serious one that requires urgent medical attention. Some spinal conditions can deteriorate quickly, resulting in long-term damage that can affect a person’s quality of life. 

In this article, we will discuss what are urgent spinal conditions, the symptoms, treatments, surgeries, and the consequences of not seeking medical consultation. 


What Spinal Conditions Require Urgent Attention?

There are a large number of spinal conditions that can cause pain, discomfort, and a lack of mobility. These conditions can range in severity, from mild inflammation to degenerative diseases. Some back problems can ease on their own with the help of a little rest, whereas others may require medical treatment and potentially surgery. 

Here is a list of some of the more urgent spinal conditions.

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal Stenosis relates to the narrowing of the smaller part of the spinal canal, resulting in compression of the spinal cord and nerve roots, resulting in a pinching feeling and pain. Other symptoms include cramps and weakness/ numbness in the back. It is most common in the lower back (lumbar) but can occur anywhere in the spine. Depending on where the stenosis occurs, the symptoms could spread to the legs, arms, shoulders, and neck.

Osteoarthritis is one common cause of spinal stenosis, as well as being a result of the aging process, and general ‘wear and tear’. Other causes may include a thickening of the ligaments in the back or herniated discs. 

If you experience the symptoms above, arranging a medical consultation is recommended. Leaving these symptoms to worsen could result in severe pain, making walking even a short distance extremely difficult. If the pain is so severe that you frequently need to sit down or lean on something to ease it, then you should visit a doctor immediately. 

Spinal Stenosis Treatment

Your doctor may provide you with a range of options for the treatment of spinal stenosis before any surgery is advised. 

Treatments may include:

  • Regular exercise to build muscle strength
  • Over-the-counter medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs)
  • Cortisone injections to issue temporary pain relief

Herniated Discs

Each bone in the spine (vertebrae) is protected by a cushioned disc that acts as a shock absorber whenever a person moves. These discs consist of a harder outer layer (annulus) and softer inner tissue (nucleus).

These discs can sometimes slip from their original position, resulting in the softer inner tissue bulging out of the protective layer and coming into contact with the nerves. This is known as a slipped or herniated disc. 

The most common cause of this condition is degeneration (aging), therefore, it can often occur in older people. However, a herniated disc could happen to anyone, at any age, possibly as a result of a strain or injury. Even a minor strain could cause a disc to rupture. 

Some research also shows that herniated discs could be hereditary

Some people experience no pain or symptoms at all but typically, a person suffering from a herniated disc would experience intermittent episodes of pain. The pain caused by a herniated disc can be very severe and it could happen in any part of the spine, but more often in the lower back. A slipped disc could also lead to other conditions such as sciatica. 

When To Seek Medical Attention For A Herniated Disc

A doctor would most likely recommend a number of treatment options before a discectomy is considered. This may include physical therapy or a pain-killing, anti-inflammatory medication. A person’s overall health and age may also be considered before surgery is recommended, weighing up the risks versus the benefits. 

A person suffering from a herniated disc may require surgery if:

  • Pain limits regular motion
  • Numbness and weakness in the legs are present
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control
  • Severe discomfort when walking or standing
  • Painkillers no longer work
  • Physical therapy has proven ineffective

Spondylolisthesis & Spondylosis

Spondylolisthesis and spondylosis are common causes of back pain, most prevalent in children and teenagers but can also affect adults. Spondylosis and spondylolisthesis are two different conditions but are closely related. 

Spondylosis relates to a stress fracture or a weakening of the vertebrae and can affect around 5% of children under the age of six. For teenagers, this condition could develop as a result of a sports injury or excess stress on the back, particularly if they partake in strenuous sports such as gymnastics or weightlifting.

Spondylosis is most common in the fifth vertebrae (lumbar), and occasionally in the fourth vertebrae. 

Spondylolisthesis is when the vertebrae weaken to the point they can no longer maintain their correct position in the spine, slipping out of place, and causing pain. The severity of the condition is often referred to as low-grade or high-grade spondylolisthesis. This condition could develop if a young person experiences a period of rapid growth. 

Spondylosis & Spondylolisthesis Symptoms

Many people suffering from these conditions do not experience noticeable symptoms, however, possible symptoms include:

  • Pain that radiates in the buttocks and spine
  • A sensation similar to muscle strain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Stiffness in the back
  • Difficult standing and walking
  • Tight hamstrings
  • Possible tingling, numbness, and weakness in either leg or both

What Are The Red Flags Of A Serious Back Condition?

There are a number of red flags that you should look out for if you are suffering from a spinal condition. If one or more of these issues is persistent then you should seek medical attention.

  1. You should seek medical attention if over-the-counter or prescription medications no longer work to ease the pain.
  2. Your back pain results in nausea and/or vomiting.
  3. The back pain travels down one or both legs.
  4. Performing everyday actions such as bending or twisting results in significant pain, impacting your daily life.
  5. You are experiencing a loss of bowel or bladder control. 

Thank you for reading, we hope this article has been helpful and helped to provide insight into some of the more urgent spinal conditions.