Sydney Brain & Spine Blog

Common Spinal Conditions Explained

The stress of everyday life often puts undue physical pressure on our bodies. This pressure can manifest as a sudden, acute problem or can be a low-grade long-term issue that causes damage over many years. By the time we’ve been to the doctor, conditions may have progressed to a point where there is no option other than surgery to rectify the issue.

In this article we describe two common spine conditions and their implications. If you are suffering from any of the symptoms described below, please get in contact with Sydney Brain and Spine to schedule an appointment. Dr Winder’s utilisation of innovative surgical treatments in the spinal field mean your condition can be treated quickly and recovery time can be minimised.

Diagnosis of Spinal Conditions

Imaging technology has evolved to the point where we are able to produce high-resolution images of the human body. Particular types of scans can map bones and nerves and pinpoint precisely where an issue has arisen. Treatment options rely on accurate diagnosis to identify the underlying cause and guide the surgeon toward the appropriate course of action.

X-Rays are often the first type of scan a patient is referred for, and can identify fractured or misaligned bones in the body, but are often not detailed enough to make a diagnosis. An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) produces detailed images allowing surgeons to identify bone, nerves, fluid and soft tissue. 3D MRI scans are now possible.

Prolapsed Intervertebral Disc

The condition commonly known as a “slipped disc” is actually a misnomer. Discs in between vertebrae bones are actually gel-like tissues that help absorb shock. They don’t slide, but if they experience high volumes of pressure, they can protrude from in-between the bones and touch or compress nerve roots.

Prolapsed discs often result from lifting heavy items or repetitive actions that place pressure on the spine. This condition usually manifests in the lower (lumbar) spine as this is the area of the spine that takes the most load.

Patients experiencing symptoms from a prolapsed disc do not necessarily require surgery. With rest and conservative treatment such as medication and physiotherapy, symptoms will often resolve on their own.  The disc may resorb over time depending on the size of the disc prolapse, and in other cases a steroid injection may help to resolve inflammation around the nerve thereby reducing pain. In some serious cases, however, the patient may require surgery to remove the part of the disc that is compressing the nerve and causing pain and neuropathic symptoms such as pins and needles, numbness and tingling.


Spondylosis is a term describing the degenerative changes in the spine that cause pain. The main cause of spondylosis is the ageing process that causes the development of osteophytes (bone spurs) and the weakening of the discs between the vertebrae leading to bulging or herniated discs. Spondylosis may also be caused by facet joint arthritis. In this condition the cartilage between the facet joints breaks down and the joints become very inflamed. All of these changes can cause compression of the exiting nerves or spinal cord. This sort of wear and tear is usually present in elderly people, but can also affect younger people too. Other causes include neck injuries, poor posture, repetitive movements, excessive weight and genetic factors. Symptoms of spondylosis include pain and stiffness, loss of range of motion, and neuropathic symptoms such as numbness, tingling and weakness.

Spondylosis is firstly treated conservatively with modalities such as physiotherapy, medication, rest and modifications to activity. If these options have been trialled without success then surgery may be considered.  The aim of surgery is to relieve the compression on the nerves or spinal cord thereby decreasing pain. There are a number of surgical options available depending on the cause of the spondylosis.