Made up of collagen and elastic fibers, the arachnoid is a membrane that protects spinal cord nerves. When this membrane becomes inflamed, it’s known as arachnoiditis, an often-painful condition typically characterized by burning and stinging sensations. Some patients also experience related neurological issues. Arachnoiditis is an incurable condition. However, symptoms can be effectively managed for some patients.
What Causes Arachnoiditis?
The arachnoid may become inflamed because of an injury or following surgery. This membrane may also be irritated by epidural injections or when patients have certain viral or bacterial conditions such as meningitis and tuberculosis. Other possible issues that may contribute to or cause arachnoiditis include:
- Direct injuries or sudden trauma to the spine
- Preservatives used in epidural steroid injections
- Lumbar punctures (“spinal taps”)
- Certain chemotherapy drugs that are injected into the spine
- Contrast dye used in some diagnostic tests
- Chronic nerve compression from degenerative disc disease or conditions like spinal stenosis
What Are the Possible Symptoms?
Specific symptoms associated with arachnoiditis will depend on which part of the spine is affected and which nerves are irritated. Pain, which may become worse with movement, may be felt directly in the affected area or in nearby areas in the lower back, legs, buttocks, thighs, or feet. Some patients describe the pain as being akin to what’s felt with an electrical shock. Additional symptoms may include:
- Muscle spasms or cramps
- General weakness and/or joint pain
- Difficulty walking
- Fatigue and difficulty sleeping
- Severe headache, nausea, and dizziness
- Bowel or bladder issues
How Is Arachnoiditis Diagnosed?
It can be difficult to diagnose arachnoiditis since symptoms may be similar to those associated with other common nerve-related spine-related conditions. Physical examinations often include neurological exams and a check of reflex responses. Diagnostic tests performed typically include CT scans and MRIs. An electromyogram (EMG) may also be done to test nerve function to determine which nerves are affected.
What Are the Treatment Options?
Because there is no cure for arachnoiditis, treatment usually focuses on managing symptoms and easing discomfort as much as possible. Treatment plans are similar to those recommended for people with chronic pain, which usually means a combination of:
- Customized exercise routines
- Pain management techniques such as heat and cold applications and massage therapy
- Water-based therapy
- Opioids for severe pain*
- Psychotherapy to manage mood changes
*Opioids for pain management purposes should be used with caution due to the risk of addiction.
Surgery is not a common recommendation for arachnoiditis treatment. There is some debate over whether or not it would even be helpful. Clinical trials are needed to determine if pain management techniques such as steroid injections and electrical stimulation might ease discomfort. There are no standard recommendations for prevention. However, since arachnoiditis is sometimes a complication of minimally invasive spine surgery, Los Angeles patients can minimize their odds of experiencing the condition by exploring all available non-surgical treatments before considering surgery or opting for less-invasive procedures.
If you are experiencing discomfort in your spine and want to find relief, make sure to schedule an appointment with a trusted Los Angeles spine surgeon from The Spine Institute. Give us a call today at 310-828-7757, and take the first steps toward living a pain-free life.