The human spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that link to important parts of the brain. If something disrupts signals sent by spinal nerves, you could experience pain and other symptoms that impact your daily life. While you may know auto accidents can result in serious spinal cord injuries, there are other common sources of spinal cord compression that tend to be less traumatic. Here’s a closer look at some of them.
Spinal cord compression can occur suddenly, or it may happen over time in a way that’s more gradual. The abrupt or sudden type of compression is often easier to diagnose and treat. Therefore, we’ll focus on the more progressive causes of spinal cord nerve irritation or compression. However, some of these sources of compression mentioned below could also produce acute symptoms at times.
• Arthritis-related wear (degeneration) – Arthritis is a progressive condition that may affect spinal bones, joints, and soft tissues enough to compress the spinal cord to some extent.
• “Bulging” spinal discs – Discs damaged this way are literally bent out of shape, sometimes enough to affect the spinal cord.
• Herniated disc – This type of disc damage occurs when inner disc material breaks through the disc’s outer shell. Nearby spinal nerves or the spinal cord itself may be affected.
• Bleeding/clotting disorders – Conditions of this nature sometimes contribute to spinal cord compression.
• Bone spurs and tumors – Any abnormal growth around the spine may affect the spinal cord at some point.
• Spinal stenosis – Also referred to as “spinal narrowing,” spinal stenosis reduces the space around the spinal cord, sometimes enough to irritate nerves or the spinal cord itself.
The symptoms you notice will depend on factors such as what’s compressing your spinal cord and the location of the compression. However, many patients with pain related to a compressed spinal cord experience:
• Pain felt within a certain area or region of the spine
• Shooting pain
• Pins-and-needles sensations
• Numbness and/or tingling
• Bowel and/or bladder issues
• Limited range of motion
Because of the many variables involved with spinal cord compression, diagnosis usually involves a discussion of your symptoms and a review of your medical history. Your Santa Monica spine surgeon may also ask you to perform certain movements to determine which part of your spinal cord may be affected. Results from X-rays, CT scans, and other image tests may be used to positively determine what’s compressing your spinal
Treatment for spinal cord compression is largely based on what’s causing the compression and the symptoms you’re experiencing. For instance, disc problems and bone spurs may become less problematic with a treatment plan that includes anti-inflammatory medications coupled with therapeutic exercises and other forms of physical therapy. Some patients may benefit from treatment that includes:
• Surgical removal of a tumor
• Partial or complete disc removal
• Surgery to correct blood clot problems
• Removal of vertebral bones to relieve pressure on the spinal cord (laminectomy)
• Other decompression procedures
Because there are many possible causes of spinal cord compression, err on the side of caution and seek treatment as soon as you notice unusual discomfort that could be spine-related. Spinal cord compression isn’t always avoidable, but you can make an effort to keep your spine as healthy as possible by watching your posture and being mindful of your diet and exercise habits.
If you suspect your spinal cord may be compressed, see a spine specialist as soon as possible for prompt diagnosis. The Spine Institute offers a variety of treatments, including alternatives to spinal fusion surgery. Santa Monica residents who need information about spinal cord compression or have any other concerns about their spinal health should reach out to the compassionate professionals at The Spine Institute at 310-828-7757 and schedule an appointment today.