General/Anatomy of the Spine

The vertebral column is made up of 24 vertebrae: 7 cervical vertebrae, 12 thoracic and 5 lumbar vertebrae. Below the lumbar vertebrae there are the sacrum en coccyx.

Each vertebra is connected to the next anteriorly and posteriorely; anteriorly by the intervertebral disc, posteriorly by the facet joints and ligaments. Every vertebra forms a ring, all the vertebrae stacked on top of the other form a canal that contains the spinal cord/spinal nerves; with spinal nerves exiting at each level.

Pathology of the vertebral column can lead to either problems of the spine itself (deformation, instability and/or axial pain) but also to neurological symptoms due to compression of the neural structures (pain in the leg due to compression of the nerve, loss of strength in the legs due to compression of the spinal cord, loss of sensibility, distrubed bladder function, etc).

The vertebral column can be affected by trauma as is often the case in car accidents, but also sports injuries or falls from great height.

Tumors can be located in or around the vertebral column; they can arise from surrounding structures, the bone of the vertebrae itself, the dura mater (covering of the spinal cord) or the neural structures themselves (spinal cord or spinal nerves)

Most often, however, we see degenerative diseases of the spine. These degenerative changes are often called « arthrosis » but can relate to degenerative changes in the disc, the bony endplates of the vertebrae, the facetjoints or ligaments connecting the different vertebrae to one another. The disc is a frequent site of pathology, sometimes chronic degeneration leads to chronic pain; sometimes an acute rupture of the disc can cause a disc herniation that can then lead to compression of the nerve.

Our neurosurgical unit is able to take care of all different pathologies affecting the spine. We dispose of all modern techniques that are state of the art today and patients are carefully followed up on a regular basis. All complex cases are discussed on a regular basis in our « Spine unit », which is composed of neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, physiotherapists, pain therapists and psychologists. This multidisciplinary cooperation is unique in Belgium.