Time for Some Spine Trivia! Fun, Interesting… and Just Plain Strange Facts About Your Back

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Who ever said learning about your spine can’t be fun? Understanding that an informed patient is an empowered patient, here are eight amazing facts you may not have known about your back, brought to you by Dr. Chetan Patel and his multidisciplinary medical team at the Spine Health Institute in Altamonte Springs, Fla.

Fun fact #1: You are taller in the morning than you are at night.

Why would this be the case? For the same reason that astronauts gain an inch or two of height after spending time in space – which is to say, the difference in that downward pull called gravity. During the course of each day, the weight of your body puts increasing pressure on the intervertebral disks that provide cushioning between the bones in your neck and back, causing the disks to become more compressed so that the length of your spine actually shortens. In fact, after you’ve hit the 40-year mark, the effects of gravity and aging combine to shrink your stature by a quarter of an inch or more per decade. Of course, the difference between your height in the morning versus later that same day is very slight – but the daily effects of gravity on your disks are real.

Interesting observation #2: Humans have the same number of neck vertebrae as giraffes and camels.

This factoid might not be so surprising when you know that almost all mammals share the characteristic seven neck vertebrae, with manatees and sloths being the only outliers. But considering that a giraffe’s neck can be more than six feet long compared to the average human’s cervical spine of less than five inches, you might want to give this some thought the next time you’re at the zoo (or on safari!).

Healthy hint #3: Smoking is bad for the spine.

You already knew that smoking is bad for your lungs and other organs, and that it puts you at greater risk for multiple kinds of cancer – now here’s another reason to steer clear of that increasingly unpopular habit. Not only does smoking reduce bone strength and blood flow that your spine needs to stay strong, but it also delays the healing process when you’ve been injured and reduces your likelihood of leading the physically active lifestyle that keeps backaches at bay. Read more about the link between smoking and back pain here.

Fascinating factoid #4: Spine surgery is going robotic.

Leading spine surgeons like Dr. Chetan Patel are currently working to develop and refine robot-assisted surgical systems for use in multiple spine procedures in order to improve precision, minimize post-operative complications and maximize beneficial outcomes for patients with back pain and injuries. Read more about it right here.

News you can use #5: The vast majority of people with chronic back pain do not require surgery.

At the Spine Health Institute, Dr. Patel and his medical team focus on identifying the least invasive method for addressing back pain. Most of our patients are able to obtain substantial and long-lasting pain relief via physical therapy, rehabilitation and injections, with surgical options only being considered once all other possibilities have been exhausted. Some conditions that may be surgically addressed if non-surgical treatments fail include herniated disks, spondylolisthesis, degenerative disk disease and spinal stenosis.

Knowledgeable note #6: Back pain most commonly affects the lumbar (lower) spine.

If you frequently experience lower back pain, you’re not alone. More people seek medical help for pain and injuries in the lumbar region than any other portion of the spine. One of the reasons that this part of your back is so susceptible to problems is that it supports the entire weight of your upper body. Another reason is that the muscles and disks of the lumbar region are subject to a greater amount of bending and twisting than other parts of your back. Most of the time, lower back pain can be attributed to a mild muscle strain that should go away by itself within a couple of weeks; more severe strains can take several months to fully heal. But herniated disks and degenerative disk disease are common sources of chronic lumbar pain in adults that won’t go away over time and may become progressively difficult to ignore.

True trivia #7: Up to 80 percent of all adults will experience back pain that drives them to seek medical assistance at some point in their lives – and celebrities are no exception.

Patients with chronic back and neck pain have something in common with these famous athletes and celebrities, all of whom have struggled with debilitating back problems during their lifetimes:

George Clooney (torn dura)
Jackie Chan (fractured vertebrae)
Jennifer Grey (spinal cord compression, instability)
John F. Kennedy (fractured vertebrae)
Mario Lemeiux (herniated disk)
Jerry Lewis (chipped cervical vertebra)
Peyton Manning (pinched nerve)
Steve Nash (spondylolisthesis)
Dolly Parton (chronic back pain)
Gov. Rick Perry (spinal cord compression)
Philip Rivers (bulging disk)
Tony Romo (fractured transverse processes)
Amar’e Stoudemire (bulging lumbar disk)
Tiger Woods (herniated lumbar disk and back spasms)

Weird wonder #8: Babies have more vertebrae than adults.

It’s true. We all start out with 33 individual vertebrae but most of us end up with just 26. What happens to the extra bones? As we grow older, some of the vertebrae with which we were born naturally grow together to form the sacrum (back of the pelvis) and coccyx (tailbone). Five fused vertebrae make up the sacrum and three or more fused bones comprise the coccyx. It’s all perfectly normal – but also a pretty good piece of spine trivia.

Don’t let chronic back pain take over your life. If you suffer from constant discomfort in your neck or back, Dr. Patel and his medical team are here to help. Call our patient care coordinator at Call407-303-5452 or click on the “Book Online” button at the top right of this page to arrange for a complete medical evaluation and consultation. You’ll be glad you did.


10 Interesting Facts About the Spinal Cord (2/21/2015). Retrieved from HealthResearchFunding.org: http://healthresearchfunding.org/10-interesting-facts-spinal-cord/

10 of the most famous spine surgeries in history (8/4/2014). Retrieved from Becker’s Spine Review: http://www.beckersspine.com/spine/item/21710-10-of-the-most-famous-spine-surgeries-in-history.html

Do people shrink with age? (n.d.). Retrieved from ABC Health & Wellbeing: http://www.abc.net.au/health/talkinghealth/factbuster/stories/2015/01/20/4164317.htm

Neck bones, break-neck speed & speedy urban sprawl (4/13/2005). Retrieved from USAToday.com: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/columnist/aprilholladay/2005-04-08-wonderquest_x.htm

Celebrities With Bad Backs (9/17/2014). Retrieved from EverydayHealth.com: http://www.everydayhealth.com/pictures/celebrities-with-bad-backs/#02

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