The Lumbar Spine
The lumbar spine is the lowest portion of the spine; the part that connects the torso to the pelvis. At the very base of the lumbar spine is the sacrum (the tailbone), a small triangular bone. On either side of the sacrum are the two pelvic bones. These small but not insignificant joints that attach the hip bones to the sacrum are called the SI (or sacroiliac) joint. If the SI joint is stuck there will be compensations in the lumbar spine (remember, the SI joint is simply an extension of the lumbar spine) as well as the hip and groin area.
The lumbar spine is a very delicate and intricate area, composed of nerves and blood vessels that supply the lower leg with mobility and sensation. This bundle is often referred to as the Lumbar Plexus. It originates at T12, or the lowest vertebra in the thoracic spine and it goes to L4, the second last vertebra of the lumbar spine. L5/S1 is the beginning of the Sacral Plexus, the bundle of nerves that exits from the sacrum.
Common Conditions of the Lumbar Spine
Herniated Disc: This happens when the intervetebral disc bulges out of its normal confines between the vertebrae. These discs are like donughts; the outer layer is made up of collagen fibres and the soft gelatinous inner layer has a high water content. If the disc herniates out far enough, it will press up against a nerve, leading to sensations of pain, numbness or tingling that travel down the back side of the leg as far down as the foot.
Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD): This progressive degenerative condition affects the intervetebral discs in the later stages of life. As we age the discs naturally decrease in their ability to retain water; as the discs reduce in size spinal mobility decreases.
Stenosis: This is a narrowing or a passage or an opening, and while it can happen anywhere in the spine, it is most common in the lumbar region. As the passage gets smaller and the stenosis progresses, like a herniated disc, nerves and blood vessels can become affected.
Osteoarthritis: This degenerative condition occurs when the cartilage and underlying bone in a joint begin to deteriorate. It mostly affects weight-bearing joints like the hip, knee and spine.
Ankylosing Spondylitis: This less common condition is a progressive stiffening of the spine. Progression leads to eventual fusion of the vertebrae and a hunched forward posture. AS often starts in the SI joint and then makes its way up the spine.
Spondylosysthesis: This is an anterior slippage of a vertebra. It happens mostly commonly in the fifth lumbar vertebra after a fracture. Backwards slippage is called retrolisthesis.
Catherine Taman is a Registered Massage Therapist practicing in Toronto, Canada. She has a special interest in treating chronic pain, headaches, sports injuries and pregnancy related pain. To book an appointment with Catherine, visit rmtmassagetherapytoronto