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For all of your spine care needs in the Muskegon & Grand Haven, MI areas be sure to contact the experts at Orthopaedic Associates of Muskegon!

When it comes to problems of the neck, back and spine, you'll find a diverse selection of treatment options to effectively manage various musculoskeletal conditions. These treatment options include those clinically proven to relieve, and even eliminate pain and discomfort. You will receive care from a wealth of dedicated medical professionals, including surgeons, physicians, physical therapists, physiatrists, and pain specialists to tend to your individual needs.

At the West Michigan Spine Center, a division of Orthopaedic Associates of Muskegon, you'll find a diverse selection of treatment options to effectively manage various musculoskeletal conditions. These treatment options include those clinically proven to relieve and even eliminate pain and discomfort.

The West Michigan Spine Center's main office is located in the Orthopaedic Associates of Muskegon building near Mercy Hospital in Muskegon. The state-of-the-art facilities were designed ideally for spine patients to receive expert diagnostic analysis using advanced digital imaging and ultrasound equipment. Conservative treatment options including exercise, physical therapy, and injections, as well as surgical procedures are provided by physicians and staff with extraordinary experience. The comprehensive approach at the Spine Center provides a unique opportunity for patients with neck and low back pain to improve their quality of life.

Preparing For Spine Surgery

To help educate our patients and prepare them for before, during, and after spine surgery, we have created an informative video. If you are scheduled for spine surgery or are considering it in the future, please click the link below to watch the video.


Exercises For Your Neck and Back

back-exercisesThe best way to prevent injury is by having strong, flexible muscles and joints which resist strain and injury. With some simple cases of back and neck pain, certain exercises can help relieve some pain episodes. Remember, never do any exercise that causes increased pain.

Cardiovascular exercises raise the heart rate and breathing rate strengthens the spine, and the neck and shoulder muscles as well. Such exercise carries risk too though, so check with your doctor before beginning you home program. Walking, probably the safest and most efficient form of exercise, is especially recommended for older people. Walk with your head high, chin level, and shoulders erect, 1 hour a day, 3 to 5 days a week. You can increase your speed over several weeks. Jogging, biking, and swimming provide good exercise also. Again, build up gradually, and follow your doctor’s recommendations.

Neck Exercises

Here are some easy stretching exercises for simple neck pain that can relieve simple cases of neck ache. Some can even be used on the job to relieve neck strain.

Back Exercises

The primary goals of an exercise program for your spine are to make the muscles of your back, stomach, hips and thighs strong and flexible. Before beginning any exercise program, check with your doctor to make sure that there are no other medical considerations that would change your approach to the exercise program.

Spine Conditions


Among musculoskeletal conditions, arthritis is the most frequently diagnosed by physicians specializing in spinal and back conditions. While arthritis may develop at any age, studies suggest that about 90% of Americans over the age of 55 are afflicted. Currently 45 million outpatient visits and almost 1 million hospitalizations are related to arthritis. 

An Overview of Arthritis

Although arthritis literally means inflammation of the joints, it actually includes over 100 conditions that affect joints, connective tissue, and related soft tissue. Cartilage, a connective tissue, cushions bones and allows easy movement. With arthritis this cartilage erodes over time causing joints to rub together and results in inflammation, swelling, and pain. A bone spur (growth) may then form along the joints’ edges and the bones often become hard and firm, a condition known as sclerosis, due to bone spur formation.

While arthritis attacks the whole body, it usually targets the joints, back, and spine. Symptoms generally include joint swelling, stiffness, tenderness, and pain, especially in the body’s soft tissues, making arthritis the leading cause of physical disability. Patients often turn to chronic pain treatment programs such as those offered by the medical professionals at West Michigan Spine Center.

Understanding Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Generally, there are two types of arthritis. The first type is osteoarthritis. This results from the normal aging process as well as trauma and injuries. It usually appears in the knee, hip, or other weight-bearing joints. When the spine is targeted, it’s known as spinal osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis may also develop in joints used for work or sports and those joints previously damaged and/or fractured.

The second type of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, develops as a result of inflammation in joint linings. This disease affects 1% of the world’s population. Although the risk for rheumatoid arthritis decreases with age, it is found to affect women three times more than men. While rheumatoid arthritis may affect the entire body, it primarily develops in the spine and joints resulting in inflammation and tissue damage.

Typically, the immune system defends the body from attackers by producing chemical substances to attack and destroy joint surfaces. This can lead to joint swelling, pain, and stiffness even in inactive joints. Rheumatoid arthritis may result in long-lasting or permanent disability.

Back Pain in Children

Back pain in children can be especially destructive, affecting the physical, mental, and emotional health of the affected child and his or her family. The truth is, back pain, like any other condition, has a much greater impact on children than adults. These incidents also often signal serious underlying disorders, especially in children four years old or younger.

Medical experts advise that afflicted children visit a qualified back doctor if the pain lasts for a few days and/or if the pain has progressively worsened.

Causes & Symptoms

Certain conditions are more likely to cause back pain in children:

  • Muscle Strain and Imbalances – This is the most common source for back pain in children and adolescents. Adolescents often suffer from more persistent back pain because they have tight hamstring muscles and weak abdominal muscles. Upper back pain exercises to stretch and strengthen these muscles may offer relief.
  • Rounded Back – Adolescents may develop pain in the middle of their back (the thoracic spine), especially in thinner frames. Known as Scheuermann's kyphosis, this condition causes the vertebrae to become wedged. Prolonged activity and long periods of standing or sitting may make this condition worse.
  • Stress Fracture of the Spine (Spondylolysis) – These fractures may cause lower back pain in children and adolescents. Stress fractures can result from normal growth spurts or sports injuries from sports like gymnastics, diving, and football that involve repeated spinal twisting and hyper-extending. Rest reduces the pain, but activity makes it worse. This back pain in children may enable only short steps or a stiff-legged gait when walking. The pain is mild, but it can radiate to the buttocks and legs.
  • Slipped Vertebra (Spondylolisthesis) – This condition is more common among adolescents. Spondylolisthesis involves slippage of the vertebral bones. The most severe cases may narrow the spinal canal, resulting in nerve pressure and back pain. In children and adolescents pain develops anywhere along the spine, but usually occurs at the base.
  • Infection – Patients between the ages of 1 and 5 are susceptible to infections between the disk space. This infection, known as diskitis, can cause back pain in children. However, older children and adolescents may also be affected. Symptoms include: spinal stiffness, pain in the lower back or abdomen, and walking with a limp (or not at all).
  • Tumors – Though rare, tumors may cause back pain in children. The pain of spine tumors typically develops in the middle or lower back. This pain is often constant, worsens over time, and is unaffected by activity.

Cauda Equina Syndrome

Cauda equina syndrome, or “horse’s tail” in Latin, is a rare disease targeting the nerve roots in the lumbar (lower) spinal cord. Given its seriousness, CES may require immediate medical attention.

The onset of CES can cause serious threats to your overall health. CES involves an essential part of the spine, the one responsible for transmitting messages from the brain to and from the pelvic organs and lower limbs. As any pinched nerve back damage can lead to devastating problems, immediate medical attention is vital.

Causes of Cauda Equina Syndrome

There is a bundle of nerves called the cauda equine located at the end of the spinal column. Syndrome indicators may develop when these nerve roots are compressed and paralyzed. A pinched nerve in back regions can cut off local movement and sensation, especially in a nerve responsible for bowel, bladder, or sexual function.

CES develops either naturally at birth or through violent and/or penetrating injuries, such as falls, vehicle crashes, gunshots or stabbings.  The trauma of a lumbar puncture or spinal anesthesia may cause CES, as can ruptured disks. The narrowing of the spinal canal from spinal stenosis due to degenerative diseases (osteoarthritis) may also cause this condition. Severe spondylolisthesis, stress fractures, and inflammatory conditions like Paget’s disease can lead to the cause of CES. Finally, tumors and lesions may also cause CES by altering pinched nerve function.

Symptoms of Cauda Equina Syndrome

When dealing with CES, early diagnosis and treatment is essential but not always simple. The typical symptoms vary in intensity and may take a while to appear. Most patients may experience bladder and/or bowl dysfunction, resulting in the inability to retain or hold waste and urine.  They may also experience changes to or the loss of sensation in multiple areas. These areas include between the legs, the inner thighs, the back of the legs, over the buttocks, and around the feet and heels. Patients may observe pain, numbness, or weakness that spreads to one or both legs and causes stumbling or difficulty in rising. Sexual dysfunction may be a side effect of this condition as well. CES can lead to major health problems such as permanent paralysis, impaired bladder and/or bowel control, and the loss of sexual sensation.

Cervical Fracture

While any musculoskeletal condition may require medical attention, certain injuries demand immediate action. One of the most serious back and spinal injuries is a cervical fracture. If a cervical fracture is suspected, you may be dealing with a broken neck!

Victims of falls and motor vehicle accidents are more at risk for cervical fractures because such injuries result from high-energy trauma or activities requiring extreme force. Critical fractures are caused by sudden, severe twists or blows to the head or neck, such as those common in violent, contact sports (football, rugby, ice hockey, or wrestling). Consequentially, divers, gymnasts, skiers, surfers, weight lifters, horseback riders, and mountain bikers are also likely candidates for a cervical fracture.

If you suspect a cervical fracture has occurred, you need to quickly contact the spine specialists and medical professionals at West Michigan Spine Center.

The Severity of a Cervical Fracture

A cervical fracture is a serious injury and can take a devastating toll on your body. The neck contains seven bones, known as the cervical vertebrae, which support the head and also connect the head to the shoulders and the rest of the body. If a fracture occurs in any portion of the cervical vertebrae, this often results in major damage because a cervical fracture can cause dangerous and degenerative spine problems. The spinal cord, which runs through the vertebrae’s center, is crucial to the central nervous system. It transports information throughout the body, enabling movement and other essential functions. Risk factors for a cervical fracture include loss of sensation, temporary or permanent paralysis from the neck down, and even death.

Handling a Cervical Fracture Emergency

Patients with a cervical fracture who remain conscious may experience severe neck pain as the damaged vertebrae cause pinched nerves. These pinched nerves shoot pain through the body to the shoulders or arms and often cause bruising, swelling, and pain at the back of the neck. Persons with cervical fractures may even become paralyzed from these spine problems.

Given the risk associated with cervical fractures, if you suspect a cervical fracture has occurred it is critical you remain calm and contact a medical professional as soon as possible. Typically when emergency personnel suspect that a neck injury has occurred they recommend immobilizing a patient’s neck. A physician then performs a neurological examination to determine nerve function, orders x-rays, and may perform additional radiographic studies, such as an MRI or computed tomography (CT).

Cervical Radiculopathy

Cervical radiculopathy or a pinched nerve occurs when neck pain spreads all the way into your shoulders or arms. This pain and discomfort is actually the result of an injury near a spinal nerve root. Cervical radiculopathy is a very common occurence as its development is so closely associated with aging.

If you look at the anatomy of vertebrae, located between each bone are intervertebral disks which are responsible for the spine’s flexibility, support, and strength. These disks contain high levels of water. Over time, this water content depletes. This causes the disks to become stiff and then shrink and bulge, causing vertebrae to start moving closer together. The body, believing that these collapsed disks are in trouble, responds by constructing sharp bone spurs around the disks for strength. Bone spurs may also cause narrowing of the spinal canal, leading to the development of a pinched nerve in the back or neck, causing cervical radiculopathy.

Cervical Radiculopathy Symptoms

Every person’s spinal disks go through a series of natural changes as a result of the aging process. We all can expect some worn disks and a pinched nerve in the back and neck regions throughout life. That said, not all persons will have the same symptoms and pain of cervical radiculopathy, if at all. For some, cervical radiculopathy becomes a serious health threat.

If cervical radiculopathy does develop, patients typically experience pain, particularly down the arm housing the pinched nerve(s). This pain usually manifests as sharp bursts, dull aches, tingling, or even numbness.  Some cervical radiculopathy patients may also be gripped by weakness. Some patients also complain that certain movements may worsen the symptoms of cervical radicuolpathy. These include extending or straining the neck or turning the head. Specific movements, like placing the hand on the head and stretching the shoulder, actually relieve cervical radiculopathy pain and discomfort.

Visiting Doctors for Cervical Radiculopathy

If cervical radiculopathy develops, you may need medical assistance. Physicians will typically take a complete medical history and discuss your symptoms. They’ll also conduct a full examination, including tests for strength and sensation, as well as for reflexes. Physicians may also order X-rays to assess the bones’ alignment and any disk narrowing.  They may also often order diagnostic tests such as computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance image (MRI) scans of the neck.

Cervical Spondylosis

Cervical spondylosis is a common injury that often occurs when playing sports. In such an injury, a fracture develops in the spinal column’s bones involving the neck.

Technically, cervical spondylosis is defined as arthritis of the neck. The bones in the neck (or “cervical spine”) are affected by aging and the inevitable deterioration of arthritis in the joints. Unlike spinal osteoarthritis, cervical spondylosis rarely results in disabilities or crippling. Nevertheless, you should seek out medical care if this condition develops.

Who Is At Risk for Cervical Spondylosis?

According to recent studies, cervical spondylosis affects about 85% of persons over 60 years old. On the other hand, this condition is also common in adolescent athletes participating in sports and activities that place stress on or continually overstretch/hyperextend the spine. Finally, cervical spondylosis may also develop at birth, specifically in those with thin vertebrae.

With cervical spondylosis, the intervertebral disks gradually lose their water content, causing the disks to become stiff, shrink, and bulge as the vertebrae move closer together. Sharp bone spurs may develop to provide strength. Cervical spondylosis also deteriorates the cushioning between the disks.

Common Cervical Spondylosis Symptoms

Not all patients suffering with cervical spondylosis experience the same symptoms. The most common complaint is pain caused by pressure being placed on surrounding nerve roots. If cervical spondylosis becomes very severe, patients may also complain of pain in the back of neck, tingling or muscle weakness in the arms or legs. Pinched nerves also frequently develop with this condition.

Some of the less common symptoms of C.S., including those related to direct pressure being placed on the cervical spine, include trouble walking, total body weakness, the loss of balance, and the loss of bowel and/or bladder control. Patients may also experience “parasthesia,” shocks in the hands and legs caused by the lack of blood flow and nerve compression.

Congenital Torticollis (Twisted Neck)

Congenital torticollis  (Twisted Neck), common in firstborn children, is typically diagnosed 6-8 weeks after birth. Children with a twisted neck are 10-20% more likely to have hip dysplasia (dislocation) at birth as well. The simple act of sleeping may reveal the presence of twisted neck. When a physician suspects congenital torticollis, he or she should also examine the hips. Children with congenital torticollis (or “wryneck”) appear to have their heads tilted to one side. This twisted neck also makes it difficult to turn the head to the opposite side.  

The Causes of Congenital Torticollis

A medical examination may be necessary if, in the first month after birth, your baby has a twisted neck or favors one side. The doctor may find a soft, non-tender mass or “tumor” attached to the muscles on the neck’s tilted side. Congenital torticollis masses usually shrink and often they are completely gone once the child is between 4 and 6 months old.

With firstborn children, there is a greater chance of mothers suffering injuries called intrauterine “packing.” This involves the baby being unable to move around enough inside the uterus, causing muscles to become “stuck” in one position. This packing results in a twisted neck or a dislocated hip. Physical examinations, X-rays, and/or ultrasounds are used to diagnose congenital torticollis. Congenital torticollis tumors may also form and the muscles’ level of tightness depends on the amount of scarring.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Congenital Torticollis

Congenital torticollis causes the head to tilt in one direction with the chin pointing toward the opposite shoulder. In about 75% of all twisted neck cases, the baby favors the right side. In addition to forming a soft, non-tender mass in the neck’s muscles, affected babies also experience a limited range of motion in their necks.

Congenital torticollis also often results in one side of the baby’s face and head becoming flattened because the child always sleeps on one side. This may be relieved by changing the baby’s head position while sleeping, using pillows.

Fractures of the Spine

The twelve vertebrae of the thoracic spine run from the upper chest to the middle back and connect to the rib cage. The lumbar spine, located in the lower back, includes 5 vertebrae that support greater body weight. Fractures to either the thoracic spine or the lumbar spine are actually two of the most common spinal fractures. Another common fracture is a thoracolumbar junction fracture and it occurs where these two segments meet.

A thoracic or lumbar fracture of the spine is a serious condition. West Michigan Spine Center is unrivaled in neck or back pain management for a fracture of the thoracic and lumbar spine. If you have experienced a fracture of the thoracic or lumbar spine, please contact us immediately!

Causes and Symptoms of Thoracic Spine and Lumbar Spine Fractures

A fracture of the thoracic spine or the lumbar spine is typically caused by high-velocity accidents, such as falls, car crashes, sports injuries, and other violent acts. As a result, men are four times more likely than women to suffer a fracture of the lumbar spine or thoracic region.  Additionally, seniors are at risk for fractures of the lumbar spine or thoracic region, as their bones are weak and brittle. Other conditions involving weakened bone, such as tumors, can increase risk for fractures. These fractures may also cause lumbar spine pain and spinal cord damage.

Persons experiencing a fracture of the thoracic spine or the lumbar spine typically present with moderate to severe upper back and neck pain, worsened with movement. Spinal cord-related injuries may cause numbness, tingling, weakness, bowel/bladder dysfunction, brain injuries, black-outs, and lost consciousness. A fracture of the lumbar spine or thoracic spine can also result in distracting injuries in which pain from other spine injuries masks lumbar spine pain.

Identifying Fractures of the Lumbar Spine & Thoracic Spine Patterns

Doctors seek to identify the specific fracture patterns when diagnosing a fracture of the thoracic spine or the lumbar region, enabling them to choose the proper course of treatment. There are three types of patterns caused by a fracture of the lumbar spine or thoracic spine:

  • Flexion fracture patterns: A compression fracture of the lumbar spine or thoracic region occurs when only the vertebrae’s anterior (front) breaks and loses height. When both the front and back sides lose height, an axial burst fracture of the thoracic spine or the lumbar region develops. Such fractures often result after landing on your feet from a fall.
  • Extension pattern: The pain of a spine fracture of the thoracic spine or the lumbar region from an injury like a head-on collision is caused by vertebrae pulling apart. These are called “flexion/distraction (Chance) fractures.”
  • Rotation fracture pattern: A “transverse process fracture,” which usually doesn’t affect stability, is caused by a fracture associated with rotation or extreme sideways (lateral) bending. A “fracture-dislocation,” in which vertebrae are displaced, targets bone and/or soft tissue. These fractures can lead to serious upper back and neck pain and spinal cord injuries.

Herniated Disk

A herniated disk, also known as a “slipped,” “torn,” or “ruptured” disk, often results when we attempt to lift something. Please note that although the pain and discomfort can seem unbearable, a herniated disk is actually one of the most common conditions affecting your neck, back, arms, and legs. Aside from age, a herniated disk may occur due to: smoking, excessive body weight, sudden pressure, repetitive strenuous activities, and improper lifting.

Research suggests that herniated disk pain in the lower back affects 80% of the population. This condition, lumbar disc herniation, is 15 times more likely to occur than a cervical or thoracic disk herniation. When you visit West Michigan Spine Center, our team of medical professionals possess the skill and experience necessary to diagnose and treat herniated disc, neck, and back pain.

Causes and Symptoms of Herniated Disk

Our spines contain flat, round, jelly-like intervertebral disks between each vertebrae.  The nucleus pulposus provides flexibility and strength while the flexible outer ring, annulus fibrosis, enables spinal movement and support. A herniated disc develops when the disk’s center bulges out through the outer rings. When such bulging discs touch the nearby sensitive spinal nerves, herniated disc pain radiates throughout the spinal cord. These disks contain water that enables flexibility, and as we age this water content decreases. The disks then shrink and the spaces between become narrower, weakening and damaging the disks.

When a herniated disk targets the lower back, it’s called lumbago. A herniated disk can also result in numbness, tingling, burning, and weakness in the one or both arms or legs and the buttocks, and may even cause a loss of bladder and/or bowel control. A herniated disk may result in sciatica, a sharp, shooting pain running from the buttocks down the back of a leg. A herniated disc in neck areas can place pressure on the trapezius muscles located between the neck and shoulders. This can cause pain to shoot down the arms, as well as headaches in the back of the head. Although severe pain and discomfort often accompany a herniated disk, it can be challenging for a physician to identify the cause. Typically, a herniated disk is suspected after an individual falls or has been involved in an accident involving the back.

Kyphosis (Roundback)

While the spine is somewhat rounded naturally, problems arise when this curvature becomes abnormal. This can cause “roundback,” also known as kyphosis of the spine or hunchback. There are different types of kyphosis, with one form or another affecting both men and women and all age groups.

Roundback may develop as the result of degenerative diseases or trauma and may even target specific body types. Among the causes of kyphosis of the spine are degenerative conditions (arthritis and osteoporosis), vertebral fractures, and trauma. The symptoms can range from pain-free slouching to more advanced spinal disorders like constant pain, breathing difficulties, and in the more severe cases, even death.

The Profiles of Kyphosis

There are actually five separate types of kyphosis. Although all of these may cause upper back and neck pain to some degree, each possess unique symptoms and causes:

  • Postural Kyphosis – The most common variety of roundback, postural kyphosis is basically a non-painful, slightly exaggerated form of the spine’s natural curve, resulting from excessive slouching. Postural kyphosis of the spine typically appears during adolescence and is more common in girls. While it usually doesn’t correct itself, adult health problems are rare. Strengthening and stretching exercises may relive this form.
  • Scheuermann's Kyphosis – While this type of kyphosis also develops during adolescence, this is often a more serious conditon. It can target patients’ thoracic (upper) and lumbar (lower) spine. Thinner individuals are at greater risk for Schueuermann’s kyphisos. If pain develops it strikes the spine’s highest point. This pain generally worsens with activity and long periods of standing or sitting. Both exercise and anti-inflammatory medication may provide relief.
  • Congenital Kyphosis – This kind of roundback targets fetuses in the womb. It develops when the spinal columns do not properly develop. As a result, vertebral bones may become misaligned and/or fuse together. Without surgical treatments and regular follow-up, congenital kyphosis of the spine and related spinal disorders can become worse as children grow.
  • Nutritional Kyphosis – Roundback can result from nutritional deficiencies that soften vertebral bones. Deficiencies such as the lack of vitamin D during childhood, a condition known as rickets, may lead to spine problems.
  • Gibbus deformity – With this version of the disease, patients have an easily visible hump when bending forward. This roundback is thought to occur when vertebrae are damaged, usually from disease.

Low Back Pain

According to the National Institute of Health, low back pain, or lumbago, impacts an estimated 80% of the entire population. Although each individual has his or her own threshold for pain, low back pain can negatively impact your life. Fortunately, there are ways to deal with, and even overcome, low back pain. At West Michigan Spine Center, our experienced team of medical specialists is trained to treat a variety of back and spinal conditions and offer back pain management.

Anatomy of Low Back Pain

The lumbar spine includes five larger vertebrae and supports a greater amount of body weight. This segment is primarily responsible for low back pain.

The vertebrae form an interconnected canal protecting the spinal cord, and small facet joints within the vertebral column enable movement and spinal rotation. The flat, round intervertebral disks between each vertebra enable flexibility, strength, and movement. They also contain water that depletes with time, causing available disk space to narrow and low back pain to develop.

Causes and Symptoms of Low Back Pain

Activities, such as over-activity and bending or lifting, contribute to low back pain, but such pain typically disappears within a few weeks. Aging, beginning as early as 20s or 30s, can cause low back pain. Other causes may include:

  • Intervertebral disk tears, injuries, or herniation (slipped disks)
  • Disk degeneration – disks collapse and rub together
  • Spondylolisthesis – stress fractures that weaken bones causing disk shifting and nerve pressure
  • Spinal stenosis – the space around the spinal cord narrows causing cord and pressure on the nerves in the lower back
  • Bone spur – a new bone spur (growth) develops to support vertebrae after disks collapse and may narrow the spinal canal.
  • Scoliosis – an abnormal spinal curve affecting children, adolescents, and older arthritis patients.
  • Diseases – such as cancer or Spine Centerular or arterial disease

Symptoms of low back pain include constant or intermittent pain, sudden flashes or a slow onset, sharp, stabbing pain, dull aches, or cramps. Although lying down or reclining may offer relief, the pain can worsen with bending, lifting, standing, walking or sitting. You may experience pain radiating from the back into the buttock or outer hip area, but not down the leg. There may also be sciatica affecting the nerves in the lower back causing pain in the buttocks or legs, tingling, numbness, or weakness.  Low back pain patients may even experience fever, chills, or unexpected weight loss. All of these symptoms may require medical attention.

Patient Education Sheets

For additional information about treatment, we have included this complete patient eduction sheet as a pdf to view, download and print:

Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

Like various parts of our bodies, the spine changes through the years. As time passes, the spinal canal gradually narrows and a condition known as lumbar spinal stenosis may develop.

Lumbar spinal stenosis is an age-related condition typically affecting persons over 60 years old. Interestingly, although men and women have the same chance of developing lumbar spinal stenosis, women are more likely to experience symptoms requiring medical treatment. Diagnosis and treatment of spinal stenosis are just some of the services our medical team provides.

Causes of Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

With lumbar spinal stenosis, the spine’s bones and soft tissue can become hard and/or overgrown over time. While lumbar spinal stenosis actually affects the lower back, it can also affect the spinal cord and surrounding nerve roots. Some people, usually men, may develop spinal canal stenosis as a result of genetics. This is known as congenital spinal stenosis and symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis often appear between the ages of 30 and 50.

Aside from aging, the leading cause for lumbar spinal stenosis is arthritis. The spine’s interverterbral disks which enable strength, support, and flexibility, weaken over time. This narrows the spaces between the disks and the space may collapse. The facet joints, located behind the spine, are forced to take on extra weight and ligaments in the lower back grow larger. Such changes squeeze the nerve endings.

Lumbar Spinal Stenosis Symptoms

Lumbar spinal stenosis causes pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. Such pressure can result in serious pain, leg numbness, and weakness. However, not everyone will experience the same lumbar spinal stenosis symptoms. Some people may have more or less back pain than others based on the severity of arthritis present. Additionally, those with spinal canal stenosis often experience sciatica. Sciatica is caused by the pressure lumbar spinal stenosis places on spinal nerves. This burning, shooting pain or ache can radiate down the leg and may even affect the feet.

Spinal canal stenosis patients may be afflicted with numbness, tingling, and weakness in these areas. The weakness can affect one or both legs and there may also be the chance of foot drop, where it feels as though the foot is slapping against the ground while walking.

Simply sitting or leaning forward may alleviate spinal stenosis pain. Such activity provides relief because it may increase the nerves’ available area. On the other hand, in some cases lumbar spinal stenosis pain may be worsened by standing up straight or walking. Given the various factors and subtle differences, you should visit experts in the field for diagnosis and treatment of lumbar spinal stenosis.


Osteoporosis is a disease of progressive bone loss associated with an increased risk of fractures. The term osteoporosis literally means porous bone. The disease often develops unnoticed over many years, with no symptoms or discomfort until a fracture occurs. Osteoporosis often causes a loss of height and dowager’s hump (a severely rounded upper back).

What causes osteoporosis?

Doctors do not know the exact medical causes of osteoporosis, but they have identified many of the major factors that can lead to the disease.

Aging: Everyone loses bone with age. After 35 years of age, the body builds less new bone to replace the loss of old bone. In general, the older you are, the lower your total bone mass and the greater your risk for osteoporosis.

Heredity: A family history of fractures; a small, slender body build; fair skin; and Caucasian or Asian ethnicity can increase the risk for osteoporosis. Heredity also may help explain why some people develop osteoporosis early in life.

Nutrition and Lifestyle: Poor nutrition, including a low calcium diet, low body weight, and a sedentary lifestyle have been linked to osteoporosis, as have smoking and excessive alcohol.

Medications and Other Illnesses: Osteoporosis has been linked to the use of some medications, including steroids, and to other illnesses, including some thyroid problems.

Patient Education Sheets

For additional information about treatment, we have included this complete patient eduction sheet as a pdf to view, download and print:

Neck Pain

Neck pain can develop as a result of various causes including long hours of working or studying, physical activities, accidents and injuries, stress or sickness. The pain and discomfort you feel may be nothing more than a passing twinge. However, left untreated, neck pain could signal more serious underlying conditions. Physicians, and especially neck and spinal (“musculoskeletal”) specialists, are tending to an inexhaustible number of new and existing patients every year.

Acute neck pain affects millions of men and women, regardless of age, race, or state of health. Whether your neck pain is minor or severe, you should consider visiting the experienced team of medical professionals at West Michigan Spine Center, one of the nation’s leading facilities for back and neck pain.

Causes & Symptoms of Neck Pain

The many components within the neck, including bones, joints, and assorted soft tissues (muscles, ligaments, nerves, tendons), require special care and protection. Soft tissue problems are a major source for neck pain which then radiates into the upper back, shoulders, or arms. Most of the time, this neck pain is temporary and goes away with time, although more serious conditions such as a herniated disk in the neck may require medical attention. Additionally, inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, tumors, infections, and other factors may cause neck pain. Aging and normal wear-and-tear can also contribute to the cause of neck pain.

Patient Education Sheets

For additional information about treatment, we have included this complete patient eduction sheet as a pdf to view, download and print:


Sciatica is a very common condition, especially in men and women between the ages of 30 and 50. The pain usually starts in the lower back or hips and then radiates into the back of the thighs. It can also spread down into the legs and possibly affect the feet.

Sciatica refers to those symptoms that target nerve roots and cause pain, but it is not the cause of the pain. This subtle distinction is critical because the treatment options turn off the specific symptoms. Depending on the symptoms, a physician will determine the appropriate treatment for each patient. If you're seeking quality medical attention for sciatica or other conditions, visit West Michigan Spine Center.

The Science Behind Sciatica

Normal aging and wear-and-tear contribute to scatica. A common cause of sciatica is the deterioration of intervertebral disks between each vertebra that cushion the bones of the lower (lumbar) spine. These disks allow for flexibility, strength, and movement. Over time, the disks lose water causing the vertebra to rub together. The disks’ jelly-like center (nucleus) may protrude into or through the disk's outer lining. The nucleus can also leak chemicals that irritate and inflame nerve roots.

As a result, these herniated disks can place sudden, direct pressure on the surrounding nerves in the lower back. Specifically, pinched nerve development targets the sciatic nerve, a large nerve fiber that originates in the lower back that runs through the buttocks and down the lower legs. The sciatic nerve is actually the body’s longest and widest single nerve. It’s been found that an estimated 1 in 50 people will experience a herniated disk during their lifetime and 10% to 25% will experience sciatic nerve compression symptoms lasting more than 6 weeks.

The main symptom of sciatica is severe radiating pain. This pain may even manifest itself when sitting, coughing, or sneezing. Sciatic nerve compression may be accompanied by numbness, muscular weakness, tingling, burning, and a pins and needles feeling. Patients also complain about difficulty in moving around and controlling their legs. Frequently, these symptoms are only felt on a single side of the body. Although rare, sciatica’s nerve pressure may cause the loss of bladder or bowel control and numbness or tingling in the groin or genital area. When this occurs, immediate medical attention is vital.

Spinal Cord Compression

Despite a proper diet and exercise routine, you can’t escape the effects of aging, especially when it comes to spinal health. One of the more common conditions is spinal cord compression or cervical spondylotic myelopathy (CSM). This condition occurs as a result of the natural narrowing of the spinal canal. While some narrowing is normal, increased narrowing may compress the spinal cord causing a serious threat to general health.

Older Americans in particular are likely candidates for CSM, as the symptoms usually appear after the age of 50. Persons who have experienced spinal injuries at an earlier age may also develop spinal cord compression. Fortunately, the back doctors and spine surgeons at West Michigan Spine Center can treat CSM and its symptoms.

Causes of Cervical Spondylotic Myelopathy

CSM can cause serious neck pain, often because of problems with nearby soft tissues. The normal effects of aging can wear down the muscles, ligaments, and nerves, along with the spine’s bones and joints resulting in neck pain and pain in the upper back, shoulders, or arms. The leading causes of spinal cord compression include:

  • Cervical Disk Degeneration – Between each vertebra are flat, round, intervertebral disks which enable spinal flexibility, strength, and support. These disks have a high water content that decreases around the age of 40 and older. This shrinks the space between vertebrae which in turn wears down the disks and causes spinal cord compression.
  • Inflammatory Diseases – Certain inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, target neck joints, especially in the upper neck, resulting in severe pain and stiffness in the neck. This can also compress the spinal cord.
  • Injury – Although our necks are flexible, they are also very fragile. Accidents and injuries such as car accidents, falls, and contact sports, can injure the neck and cause spinal cord compression. The most severe neck injuries are neck fractures or dislocations. These injuries may compress the spinal cord and can even result in paralysis.

Symptoms of Cervical Spondylotic Myelopathy

Patients with spinal cord compression typically notice a steady progression of their disease with symptoms gradually evolving over the years. However, approximately 5% to 20% of patients will experience rapid progression of CSM with the sudden onset of symptoms.

In most instances, once spinal cord compression develops, its symptoms tend to continue. The most common symptoms include: neck pain and/or stiffness, tingling, and numbness. Patients with spinal cord compression may also experience weakness and drop things, or have trouble lifting objects. They may also face a loss of balance, difficulty walking, and a wide-based gait. Patients may also experience problems with coordination.

Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis

When back pain severely interferes with normal life, the cause may be either Spondylolysis or Spondylolisthesis. Although they may sound similar, one is actually a more advanced version of the other.  These conditions are caused by the spinal bones (vertebrae) moving out of their proper alignment, often resulting from a fracture.

Spondylolysis is defined as a stress fracture in the bones of the spinal column, while spondylolisthesis is a stress fracture that weakens bones so they are unable to maintain their proper position, resulting in shifting.

Similarities and Differences Between Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis

While spondylolysis is considered the most common reason for lower back (lumbar) pain among adolescent athletes, research shows that it affects 3% to 6% of the entire population. Spondylolysis of the spine is a frequent culprit when it comes to those conditions that appear in X-rays. The fifth lumbar vertebra is the usual target for spondylolysis, but patients may also develop this condition in their fourth lumbar vertebra.

Contrastingly, spondylolisthesis is more common among adolescents and adults. In severe cases of spondylolisthesis, the vertebral bones may eventually press on corresponding nerves. This scenario may call for surgery to correct the positioning. This condition may develop anywhere along the spine, although the lumbar region is the most common area.

Causes of Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis

Generally, both of these spinal conditions are thought to develop either because they are inherited, or as a result of overuse. On a hereditary basis, research suggests that spondylolysis is more likely to develop because individuals who are born with thin vertebral bones may be more vulnerable. Additionally, certain sports and activities stress the lower back’s bones and continually overstretch/hyperextend the spine. For example, sports such as football, gymnastics, and weight-lifting, may contribute to spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis formation. This often results in a stress fracture on one or both vertebral sides. Those men and women who experience significant periods of rapid growth may also be at risk for having vertebral slippage.

Symptoms of Spondylolysis and Spondylolisthesis

These conditions may exist, although one may not experience any symptoms. When symptoms do occur, patients often feel pain much like a muscle strain spreading across the lower back. Heavy exercise or activity may also worsen spondylolysis back pain. New spondylolisthesis may be accompanied by an upper back ache and spasms that stiffen and tighten the hamstring muscles. Patients may also notice changes to their gait and posture, and physicians report that spondylolisthesis may narrow the spinal canal, causing nerve compression.

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Urgent Care

Injuries can happen anytime so we have immediate appointments available at our Muskegon office. Our orthopaedic urgent care is open to accommodate same day visits for the evaluation of back and spine injuries.

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