Symptoms of Spinal Problems

(view an explanation of the regions of the spine)

Cervical spine

Arm symptoms worse than neck

If you have pain / electric shock / numbness / weakness down one arm in a particular distribution, this may mean you have a "slipped disc" in your neck. This slipped disc can press on a nerve in your neck. This nerve supplies sensation or power to particular parts of one arm.

It is the response of the nerve to this compression and chemical irritation that causes the pain NOT the fact that the disc is damaged, hence the fact that the neck pain is less than the arm pain.

This is a very similar situation to the "slipped disc" in the low back that can cause sciatica (pain / electric shock / numbness / weakness down one leg in a particular distribution). In both of these situations you may not experience pain in the neck itself (or back). This often confuses people.

Neck symptoms worse than arm

This often implies that the neck is mechanically worn out but is not touching or squeezing the nerves in the neck that supply the arms. Put simply, this is what is generally called “arthritis” or “spondylosis”.

Lumbar spine

Leg symptoms worse than back

The leg symptoms may be acute such as in a “slipped disc” where there is often a severe leg pain (sometimes numbness, electric shock or tingling sensation) sometimes associated initially with back spasm and pain. This occurs when a piece of the disc “pops out” and squeezes a nerve root that supplies a particular part of the leg. This is generally a sudden event and normally settles over a few weeks to month or so. There are other causes of sudden leg pain however other than a slipped disc and this requires discussion with an experienced practitioner to distinguish the diagnosis.

Back symptoms worse than leg

This often implies that the back is mechanically worn out but is not touching or squeezing the nerves in the back that supply the legs. Much like in the neck, this is what is generally called “arthritis” or “spondylosis”. An experienced practitioner is then required to distinguish the source of the problem eg, facet pain, disc pain, soft-tissue pain, a combination of these with deformity, etc.

Bladder or bowel symptoms

If there are problems with bowel or bladder function or continence, then assessment by an experienced practitioner is required immediately as this implies compression of many nerves by some structure. If the pressure is not relieved as soon as reasonably possible, then permanent nerve dysfunction may occur.

Thoracic spine

Symptoms from thoracic spine problems can be backache from mechanical wear and tear, or a sharp pain around the chest from a slipped disc. Sometimes compression of the thoracic spinal cord can cause balance problems.

Sacrum

Symptoms from the sacrum itself are extremely rare. But symptoms from the sacro-iliac joints are common and causes buttock aches and pains, sometimes radiating down to the back of the thighs and buttocks.