It’s estimated that multiple sclerosis (MS) affects just over 2 million people around the world. However, it’s widely believed this number is low since many cases go unreported or undiagnosed until symptoms become unmanageable. Classified as an “immune-mediated process,” MS results in an abnormal immune system response that targets the body’s nervous system. While many people associate symptoms such as difficulty with coordination, lack of muscle control, and general fatigue with MS, it can also affect the spine. Here’s how.
Nerve Damage and Inflammation
Multiple sclerosis disrupts a substance called myelin that protects and insulates nerve cells in the brain and spine. This disruption to nerve cells, particularly the ones in the spine, can lead to inflammation and the development of damaged tissues (lesions). A common location for these lesions to form is the spine.
Spinal Muscular Sclerosis
Lesions affecting the spine are so common that more than half of all MS patients develop them. About 20 percent of MS patients only experience lesions in this area. When lesions develop near the spine, the condition is sometimes referred to as spinal muscular sclerosis. While the cervical spine is often affected, lesions can also form along other parts of the spinal cord, all the way down to the lumbar spine.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms related to spinal lesions are different from other sources of back-related pain because the discomfort is often limited to the affected area. Spinal lesions may produce specific symptoms such as:
• Motor weakness and tension affecting arms or legs
• Constant spine-related muscle contractions (spasticity)
• Location-specific paresthesia symptoms (numbness, tingling, and paralysis)
• Shooting bursts of pain triggered by certain movements
• Loss of bowel or bladder control that may include mild incontinence or constipation
Treatment for Spine-Related MS
Symptoms associated with spinal MS are often managed with injections or oral medications. Treating back or neck pain related to multiple sclerosis is different from how spine-related pain is normally treated because there is no specific surgical procedure that can be performed to correct the problem, as might be the case if a disc was herniated. Instead, treatment often involves:
• Medication or holistic remedies to prevent or manage flare-ups
• Adjustments to diet and exercise habits to ease physical and mental stress and boost overall health and wellbeing
• Support from family members and friends to minimize issues with depression or isolation that could affect the perception of pain
• Physical therapy or rehabilitation, if appropriate
• Counseling or therapy to develop effective management skills
Multiple sclerosis is not preventable, and there is no standard test that can diagnose it. It’s not unheard of for lower back or neck pain to be the first noticeable sign of MS. If this type of discomfort is accompanied by unusual neurological symptoms, see a Los Angeles spine surgeon. Take comfort in knowing there are various pain management options available. Also, many people with MS go on to enjoy a normal life expectancy and live productive lives.
If you are experiencing chronic pain in your spine, there are many options for fusion procedures and back fusion alternatives. Los Angeles patients who want to find relief for their pain should get in touch with The Spine Institute today at 310-828-7757.