A cyst is simply a fluid-filled sac. In some instances, these sacs form in areas where they do little or no harm and go undetected because they produce no noticeable symptoms. However, cysts sometimes form in places where sensitive nerves can be easily irritated by anything abnormal, which is sometimes the case if cysts form in the spinal cord—a condition referred to as syringomyelia. Continue reading to learn more about diagnosing, treating, and caring for spinal cord cysts.
A special type of fluid called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) protects the brain and spinal cord. This fluid normally fills cavities that extend along the entire length of the spinal cord. But if you have syringomyelia, CSF collects in spinal cord tissues and could result in a fluid-filled cavity, which is called a syrinx when it forms within the spinal cord.
It’s not known why spinal cord cysts form, although often a contributing factor is some type of disturbance related to cerebrospinal fluid flow. One of the more common CSF disturbances is what’s called a Chiari malformation, which results in brain tissue extending into the spinal cord to the point where CSF flow is interrupted. Cysts may also develop due to sudden trauma and inflammation-based conditions.
The size and location of the cyst will determine whether you notice any symptoms. There are times when symptoms appear gradually, but this doesn’t always happen. Common symptoms related to syringomyelia include:
• Back and shoulder stiffness and/or arm weakness
• Localized discomfort
• Headaches and balance problems
• Tingling sensations and/or numbness
• Bowel/bladder issues
Spinal cord cysts are usually diagnosed with MRI scans, which tend to be the most reliable form of detection. In some cases, a cyst that’s not yet causing noticeable symptoms may be discovered when an image test is done for an unrelated reason.
If a spinal cord cyst isn’t causing troublesome symptoms, periodic monitoring may be all that’s needed. If the syrinx causes any of the symptoms described above, surgery is usually recommended. The specifics of the procedure your Santa Monica spine surgeon performs will depend on what’s causing the CSF disruption. There are typically two main goals for any surgical procedure that addresses issues with spinal cord cysts:
• Restoring the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid
• Draining the spinal cord cyst
The restoration of normal CSF flow usually prevents cysts from forming again. Some patients also need to have stents or shunts inserted to help with cyst drainage.
There’s really nothing that can be done to prevent spinal cysts from forming, other than doing your best to keep your spine and its supporting parts as healthy as possible. If you do have a problematic cyst in your spinal cord, you’ll likely respond well to surgery, since procedures of this nature are fairly routine and don’t typically carry excessive risk.
If you suspect you have a spinal cord cyst, see a spine specialist as soon as possible for prompt diagnosis and treatment. The Spine Institute offers a variety of treatments for every type of neck and back condition, from artificial disc replacement to alternatives to spinal fusion surgery. Santa Monica patients who need information about spinal cord cysts or have any other concerns about their spinal health should contact the caring professionals at The Spine Institute at 310-828-7757 and schedule an appointment today.