A 'stiff spinal segment' is the pre-pathology in the lead-up to degenerative disc disease. It is the sub-clinical condition which, though painful has not deteriorated to the point of frank pathology.
This name has been coined by Sarah Key to describe the core spinal condition from which the cascade of degenerative spine disorders can flow (if you're unlucky). There is no pathology with this condition; it is simply a stiff spinal link in the spinal chain - which you can probably even feel with your own fingers.
It's not termed degenerative because it is reversible and is the proposed pre-pathology behind ‘simple back pain’. Also known as 'non-specific back pain' this is the most common spinal disorder, accounting for 90% of cases of low back pain.
A 'stiff spinal segment' is caused by small-scale injury to the disc wall. This can happen as a fluke spinal-jolting incident that bypasses all the ligamentous and muscular lines of defence and wrenches a disc. Or it can happen as a more subtle, sustained strain caused by abnormal postures say, or sleeping heavily on a soft bed.
Usually, this small-scale disc injury takes place upon a backdrop of acquired brittleness of the spine from long-term compression. Of all the compressive forces acting upon the spine, excessive sitting is the greatest. When the spine is rigidly impacted it is much more susceptible to trauma.
The core condition can be made worse by the protective clenching of the spinal muscles that lock the segment out of movement while also squeezing fluid from the disc. As this makes the disc more acidic and dehydrated the scales tip towards a degenerative cascade.
When the disc can't stretch enough a barrage of signals is emitted by small receptors in the disc wall, which the brain interprets as pain. This makes the back muscles lock up more. At this stage the MRI scans can be unremarkable, which is typical of non-specific, or simple low back pain.
Quite marked pain from the segment, even in the early stages, is Nature's way of getting things fixed before they get bad. With the pain comes the likelihood of prodding and pummelling - even in the most artless way with the sufferer's own hands - and with that the possibility of getting the segment moving again.
This is the typically sore back that you want to rub. One stiff link in the midst of a well-oiled spinal chain becomes progressively easier to hurt, until it eventually squeaks and emits pain with every move you make. The discomfort from a stiff segment can vary from faintly painful, to a broad-spreading permanent ache, to being unbearably tender, even to the lightest touch. Many sufferers at this stage think they have cancer.
As a routine thing, a stiff vertebra doesn't show up on scanning (X-rays, CT and MRI) but if you know what you are looking for, it is obvious to the touch. Most normal spines have a random scattering of stiff segments, most of which are not overtly painful. They simply set the stage for things to come.
Experienced hands can easily feel a stiff segment in the spine. From above (with the patient lying prone over a pillow) the vertebra is unwilling to glide forward under pressure and feels exactly like a stiff piano key.
A 'stiff spinal segment' is remarkably responsive to mobilization treatment. This is because the disc is still healthy; it simply has a 'churlish gatekeeper' outer wall in need of being calmed and eased into painless compliance to get fluid shunting in and out.
The book Back Sufferers' Bible has carefully mapped out treatment regimes for acute, sub-acute, chronic and sub-chronic 'stiff spinal segment' to deal with the problem. Except for the acute phase, all the treatment protocols require doing the BackBlock. When you get addicted to the BackBlock your days of needing hands-on treatment are numbered.
Catching things before they get worse is critically important in Stage 1 of spinal breakdown. To nip it in the bud you can't do better than to watch this 14 video package The Complete Back Pain Video package to see yourself out of it.
The next in the cascade is Degenerative Disc Disease or DDD
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