Five bones in your lower back let you lift and twist - what happens if they are damaged?
Running, skipping, jumping and sitting are all controlled by the lumbar spine. Who knew that five bones were so important?
Those fives bones let us carry boxes, lift weights, lug groceries to our car and a whole host of other activities that we don’t even think of until they’re gone. Our spines aren’t like Jenga towers where all the blocks are the same size; the bones at the bottom of the spine are larger, bearing the brunt of life’s daily forces, and get smaller as they rise into the thoracic and cervical regions.
What does the lumbar spine do?
The lumbar spine refers to five vertebrae in your lower back that connect your thoracic spine to your sacral spine – in terms of location, think around the curve of your abdomen. This is where all your power for lifting and twisting comes from. This area also bears the most weight, so it can become the most damaged over time.
In fact, low-back pain is one of the most common ailments as we age because this area naturally starts to break down as a lifetime’s onslaught wears its defenses away.
That’s right. We get to look forward to cartilage disintegrating between joints, resulting in osteoarthritis or spinal stenosis, which causes that low-back pain we see so often in older adults.
Some great ways to combat this are to exercise at least a few times a week, strengthening your core and stretching your hamstrings. The longer you can stay strong and pliable, the better. Even walking outside is enough to start. Yoga and Tai Chi are also low-impact ways to work on your whole body.
What happens when the lumbar spinal column is damaged?
The lumbar spinal cord controls everything from the hips down to the feet. As such, the prognosis for a lumbar spinal cord injury is actually fairly decent when compared to the cervical or thoracic regions, which are far more devastating.
Patients may experience paraplegia but will be able to use a wheelchair independently or even walk for short distances using braces or other walking devices. Unfortunately, they will not be able to control their bowels or bladder.
What if I think I’ve just had a lumbar spinal cord injury?
Do not try to move. Repeat: Do not try to move. Even if it’s only a wiggle to get to the phone, don’t try it. That wiggle could do some monstrous damage.
Call 911 and wait; medical assistance will arrive shortly, and they will transfer you to a rigid board that will keep your legs and spine from moving. This is imperative if surgical intervention is needed.
Don't be afraid of setbacks, because there will be some. Just remember that brighter days are coming.
There are many organizations and resources in place to help you transition after your immediate hospital care, which will be very necessary because lumbar injuries are among the most emotionally and physically taxing. You will likely either be using a wheelchair or crutches of some sort, and your family will also need help adjusting. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There is never such a thing as asking for too much help for an injury like this.
Spinal cord injuries can change everything in an instant. Look through our resources to see if there are groups that can help. Don’t be afraid of setbacks or bad days, because there will be some. Just remember that brighter days are coming.
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