Common Symptoms of Serious Spine Disorders That Require Careful Diagnosis

Most people know that persistent back pain can indicate a spinal condition. But, there are symptoms aside from back pain that can be triggered by a spinal disorder.

Patients may end up ignoring these symptoms or explaining them away with other factors. However, patients need to receive a careful diagnosis for common symptoms of spine disorders. Left untreated, severe spine disorders can become worse and may even limit your mobility. 

Possible signs and symptoms of serious spine disorders that require expert evaluation include: 

Nausea

Spinal disorders, namely those that affect the cervical spine, can cause nausea and even vomiting. Possible links between spinal disorders and nausea include:

Cervicogenic headaches

Spinal arthritis, whiplash, compressed spinal nerves, spinal tumors, and spinal fractures can lead to cervicogenic headaches. A cervicogenic headache is a type of headache that’s caused by a problem in the cervical spine. Oftentimes, patients who experience cervicogenic headaches experience migraine-like symptoms, including nausea and vomiting. 

Spinal cord injuries

Some people with spinal cord injuries experience nausea. It may be considered a secondary symptom, meaning that it’s not directly caused by the injury, but is linked to its effects. For instance, patients with spinal cord injuries can develop constipation, which can trigger nausea. 

Radiating Pain in The Extremities

Several different spinal disorders can cause pain that radiates to the arms or legs. Radiating pain results from damage or irritation to nerves in the body. So, if a condition affects the spinal nerves, it can cause back pain that radiates to other areas of the body. 

Sciatica is a type of radiating pain that stems from the sciatic nerve, which stems from the buttock area. It involves pain that radiates from the lower back through the buttocks, then down one leg. Lumbar spine injuries and conditions can place pressure on the sciatic nerve, leading to sciatica. 

Radiating pain should be closely evaluated by your doctor to determine its root cause. Once the cause has been determined, your doctor can recommend a course of treatment for pain relief. 

Some of the most common spinal disorders that can cause sciatica/radiating pain include:

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a condition that begins when the space in the spinal canal or foramina (bony openings) narrows. With less open space, the spinal structures can compress nearby nerves. This can lead to a range of symptoms, including back pain and radiating pain.  

Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease involves wear and tear on spinal discs. The spinal discs cushion the vertebrae of the spine. So, whether due to the natural aging process or repeated overuse, disc degeneration can cause back pain and radiating pain, among other symptoms. 

Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis is a spinal disorder that occurs when a vertebra slips out of position and falls onto the bone beneath it. This occurs as a result of spinal instability. With a vertebra out of its usual alignment, nearby nerves may become compressed and trigger radiating pain. 

Herniated Disc

Spinal wear and tear can eventually damage the tough outer layer of an intervertebral disc. If the soft, jelly-like interior of the disc presses out through a crack in the disc exterior, it’s called a slipped or herniated disc. 

If a damaged intervertebral disc presses against a spinal nerve, it can cause pain that radiates across the nerve and into other areas of the body, such as an arm or leg. 

Bone Spurs in The Spine

Bone spurs can form on the bones of the spine as a result of osteoarthritis. These bony growths may press on spinal nerves and produce pain that radiates from the back to an extremity, for example. 

Tingling, Weakness, or Numbness in the Extremities

Similar to radiating pain, neurological symptoms including tingling, weakness, and numbness in the extremities can result from spinal nerve compression. 

Tingling, weakness, and numbness in the arms and/or legs indicate nerve damage or irritation. While the cause of this nerve irritation isn’t generally serious, it needs to be promptly evaluated by a doctor to prevent further damage. 

Spinal nerve compression due to spinal stenosis, herniated disc, spondylolisthesis, and other spinal disorders is just one possible cause of neurological symptoms in the extremities. Other factors that can trigger tingling, weakness, or numbness in the arms or legs include:

  • Diabetes
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Migraines
  • Stroke
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Infections, such as shingles and HIV/AIDS
  • Vitamin deficiency
  • Radiation therapy

Loss of Bladder or Bowel Function

Bladder or bowel dysfunction is a possible symptom of spinal cord injuries. When the spinal cord is damaged, it can disrupt messages that certain spinal cord nerves send to the brain to control the bladder and bowels. As a result, patients may experience what’s referred to as neurogenic bladder or neurogenic bowel. 

There are several possible causes of bladder and bowel dysfunction. Conditions that are prevalent in older adults, including dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, are connected to bladder and bowel dysfunction. This is why it’s essential to carefully diagnose this symptom and ensure that its root cause is properly treated. 

Along with spinal cord injuries, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease, possible causes of bladder and bowel dysfunction include:

  • Multiple sclerosis, stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Stress
  • Pelvic floor issues
  • Certain infections
  • Stroke
  • Hemorrhoids 

Surgical Treatment For Spinal Disorders

Patients who experience one or more of the symptoms listed above may, after a clinical evaluation, be diagnosed with a spinal condition. 

Spinal disorders including spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, and herniated disc may require surgery if the patient doesn’t respond to non-surgical therapies. Surgery for these disorders commonly involves spinal decompression to alleviate pressure on the spinal nerves. To prevent instability after this type of surgery, many surgeons also perform spinal fusion. 

In slipped disc surgery, spondylolisthesis surgery, and related procedures, spinal fusion greatly extends the back surgery recovery time. Fusion also significantly limits patients’ back mobility. However, an alternative to fusion surgery can give patients stability after spinal surgery without compromising their flexibility. 

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms discussed in this article, visit your physician for an evaluation.

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