Soft Tissues of the Back and Spine

The soft tissues of the body are defined as all connective and non-connective tissues other than the bones, that are involved with supporting and moving the bones and organs of the body. In the case of our spines and backs, the soft tissues usually refer to the ligaments, tendons, joints, discs, and muscles that move and support the vertebral spine and the nerves and nerve branches of the spinal cord. These soft tissues are built with enough strength to maintain its normal alignment, yet built with enough flexibility and mobility for us to be able to move our body. When these soft tissues of the back and spine are strong, healthy - with a majority of its composition intact, the bones maintain protection against friction, and the nerves are free to receive and transmit autonomic, sensory, and motor signals so that we may interact with our environment, free of back pain or limitation of mobility.

When there is a weakness or deterioration in one or more of the soft tissue structures, several things may happen that could hurt the spine. If the muscles weaknesses cause the pull on the spine to be stronger on one side, the spine may be pulled in the direction towards the more developed muscles. This pull of the spine, laterally (sideways), or towards the front of the back, may result on a strain of the joints and the nerves, This pull of the spine may even result in scoliosis of the spine, or a change in the normal vertical curvatures. The bones of the spine may be affected by breakdowns in the tissues that separate the moving vertebral bones and motion segments. When the intervetrebral discs that separate the vertebral bones narrow to the point that the bones contact one another, the resulting friction may warp the natural shape of the surfaces as they continuously break down and rebuild themselves. The results of this process may include bone spurs (osteophytes), which may be painfully initially but result on an eventually re-stabilization of those moving segments of the spine. Arthritis of the spine may also occur in the facet joints, which are interlocking pieces of the spinal bones that are also responsible for movement and the structural integrity of the spine.

Perhaps the issue that is the most likely to cause chronic back pain to the person is when degenerative changes to the soft tissues of the spine cause the space around the nerves to become constricted. This constriction (compression) of the space around the nerves may cause disruptions in their ability to send and receive sensory, autonomic, and motor information. This constriction of the nerves - also referred to as "pinched nerves" and "compressed nerves" may also cause irritation and inflammation in and around them, resulting in pain. The pain and disruption of electrical activity may be restricted to the areas where the nerves are affected, or areas further away from this point, where the nerve pathway travels, may also be affected. Neurologic symptoms, related to back pain, that include things like weakness, numbness, and burning, may be referred to as referred pain or radiculopathy.

Some of the treatments used to treat injuries to the soft tissues of the back and spine include massage, ultrasound, and possibly, medications such as antidepressants and anticonvulsants.