Ligaments are tough bands of ligaments that bind bone to bone. Ligaments enable articulations between bones to form joints or to combine sets of bone to function as a single unit or structure. The ligaments of the spine enable it to move and operate as a single unit, while still preventing sections of the spine from separating or excessive movements that would be harmful to the spinal cord or joints.
Some of the ligaments of the spine include the anterior longitudinal ligament, posterior longitudinal ligament, ligamentum flavum, and supraspinal ligament.
The anterior longitudinal ligament is located just in front of the spine, and runs along the length of the spine, in front of the vertebral bodies and intervertebral discs.
On the posterior walls of the vertebral bodies and discs, the posterior longitudinal ligament runs the length of the spine.
The supraspinous ligament also runs along the length of the dorsal (back side of the spine), along the posterior wall of the spinous processes and interspinal ligaments. The inter-spinal ligaments are bands of connective tissue that run between the spinous processes.
The ligamentum flavum are bands of connective tissue that connect from one lamina, to the one above and below them.
The supraspinous and interspinous ligaments, as well as the ligamentum flavum, provide support for the facet joints and excessive movements of the spine.
The ligaments precise role in preventing or causing back injuries and resulting back pain is still relatively unknown. What we do know is that rupture, tearing, or stretching of ligaments are slow to heal, if ever, due to their poor supply of blood or other delivery system that would provide oxygen, water, and nutrients. Ligaments that are strained of stretched due to injury, may not spontaneously heal themselves and resume their original shape. If these ligaments are stretched do to injury or other pathological factor, they may no longer maintain the same stability of the spine or protect the facet joints the way they did.
Another thing that we do know about the ligaments of the back is that they gradually stiffen and lose their flexibility as we get older. These changes to these anatomical structures may affect our back for better or worse as we get older. For patients who have instability of their spine, many actually experience a decrease in frequency and severity of back pain symptoms as they get older because their ligaments begin to stiffen and lose their elasticity. This loss of elasticity may actually have the effect of stabilizing their spine, resulting in significant back pain relief. The stiffening of ligaments as we get older is also one of the reasons that we become less flexible as we get older and lose some of our ease of mobility.
Overstretched ligaments. The ligaments of the back are very strong, and they are very resistant to strain and tear, except of extreme movements, loads being enacted on them, or accident. Some ligaments may be able to heal themselves following injury, with rest, in the event of minor strains. Massage therapy may be one way of speeding up the healing process in the event of minor ligament strains.