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Myelomalacia Stages: Understanding the Progression of Spinal Cord Softening

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Updated Mar 03, 2024
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What Is Myelomalacia?

Myelomalacia, a progressive pathological condition where the spinal cord softens due to inadequate blood supply, can have devastating consequences. According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, myelomalacia often results from acute injury and can lead to neurological deficits. The myelomalacia stages range from mild to severe, with early detection being crucial for management. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons reports that spinal cord injuries affect approximately 17,000 people each year in the United States, highlighting the potential risk of developing myelomalacia post-injury. Understanding these stages is vital for both patients and healthcare providers to navigate treatment options and improve outcomes effectively.

Caused by mild to severe spinal cord injury, myelomalacia leads to neurological problems, often related to muscle movement. Often, the onset of the condition is slow and subtle, making it difficult for doctors to catch at an early stage. The condition may present simply as high blood pressure, for example, and may not be diagnosed until after the point at which it has become inoperable.

While symptoms vary, they may include loss of motor function in the lower extremities, sudden jerking of the limbs, an inability to sense pain, depression, difficulty breathing, and paralysis. The damage can migrate towards the brain in a condition known as ascending syndrome. Myelomalacia can be fatal if it causes paralysis of the respiratory system.

This condition is diagnosed through one of two imaging techniques, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and myelography. Myelography uses a contrast medium injected into the spine to reveal injuries in x-rays. It is more invasive than an MRI, but can also detect injury in some cases in which MRI cannot. Therefore, myelography is typically used as a follow up to MRI when the latter fails to identify the source of pain or injury.

Unfortunately, neurological damage due to myelomalacia is permanent. It can also worsen, as the nerve damage can cause affected muscles to whither. Treatment is focused on preventing further damage. Possible treatments include spinal cord surgery and medication with steroids, which serves to relax spastic muscles, reduce pain, and reduce swelling of the spinal cord.

Stem cell therapy may be used to repair neurological damage caused by myelomalacia in the future, but the therapy is currently experimental and controversial. Those who oppose stem cell research do so mainly on ethical grounds, since stem cells can be cloned or acquired from human fetuses. Recent technology suggests that adult stem cells, which can be harvested from the patient's own body, show promise in treating neurological damage by allowing new, healthy tissue to grow.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Discussion Comments

By anon995867 — On Jun 03, 2016

I have developed myelomalacia at C4-5 following removal of intramural extra medullary meningioma in 2011. I need to find a doctor in Houston Tx. I am having weakness in both legs and arms now. I woke up from surgery and couldn't raise my right arm; in the last two years I have had episodes of skyrocketing blood pressure and an increase in respiratory infections, and my neurosurgeon keeps telling me it is focal myelomalacia and is not increasing. I don't believe him due to increased symptoms. Is there an expert on this anywhere? Am I going to be paralyzed? Sharon M

By anon977820 — On Nov 13, 2014

I had a cervical laminectomy three years ago, and have been diagnosed with myelomalacia. I had three of my vertebral mass fused with plate and screws, C3,4,and5. Post op, I have been experiencing severe pain from my neck, down to both my shoulders, and the condition is worsening. Been on various drugs, like Lyrica to name one, but does absolutely nothing., except make me feel like a zombie the next day.

The numbness in my left hand, first second and third digits, were there pre op, and has not gone away. Also the biceps in the left arm are permanently tense. I was told by my neurosurgeon that I did have some spinal chord damage pre op, and it is permanent. Looking at applying for a disability pension!

By rozel — On Feb 24, 2014

I have read the fear in many of these listings. Yes, you will feel panic when you research online, but if you have a doctor who is skilled in treating this, as well as a physical therapist who specializes in neurological treatment, you will succeed. Believe me. I have had the misfortune of three rear-ended car accidents two within a year of each other and I understand the 'cold burn', the numbness throughout different sections of my affected 'side', the tremors and unbelievable pressure build up, but I have been taught through a wonderful team how to listen to my body and how to address the situation.

Yes, I have numbness and yes, this is now quantified as a permanent injury, but I have learned to pay attention every morning to how my body is responding from the time I open my eyes. I take precautions because one day I could be in a 7-8 level of pain when I wake up and then it moves down to a 3-4. Oh, and yes, many times, it will reverse from a 3-4 when I wake up but be a 7-8 by the end of the, day depending on what 'movements' I may have to accomplish. Just don't give in to the pain. Understand it and make it work for you.

My situation has been managed with mild medicating and daily physical therapy. Please don't be afraid. Listen to your body and you will pull through better than you can imagine.

By anon935110 — On Feb 24, 2014

I have read the fear in many of these listings ~ Yes you will feel panic when you research on line BUT if you have a Doctor who is skilled in treating as well as a physical therapist that specializes in Neurological treatment you will succeed. Believe me, I have had the misfortune of three rear-ended car accidents two within a year of each other and I understand the 'cold burn', the numbness through out different sections of my affected 'side', the tremors and unbelievable 'pressure' build up BUT I have been taught through a wonderful team how to LISTEN TO MY BODY AND HOW TO ADDRESS THE SITAUTION.

Yes I have numbness and yes this is quantified as a permanent injury BUT I have learned to pay attention EVERY MORNING to how my body is responding from the time I open my eyes. I take precautions because one day I could be in a 7-8 level of pain when I wake up than it moved down to a 3-4. Oh, and yes many a-time it will reverse from a 3-4 when I wake up but be a 7-8 by the end of the day depending on what 'movements' I may have to accomplish. JUST DON'T GIVE INTO THE 'PAIN' UNDERSTAND IT AND MAKE IT WORK FOR YOU.

My situation has been managed with mild medicating and daily physical therapy ~ PLEASE DON'T BE AFRAID ~ listen to your body and you will pull through better than you can imagine.

By anon352814 — On Oct 25, 2013

I have numbness in my hands, feet, on the left side of my back, from the base of my neck to c 5, but it is surface numbness. My hands and feet are burned a lot of times with pans and bath water. I also get infections in my toes since I don't feel the cold, either. Mine was diagnosed 15 years ago. Mine started at the base. I get my breathing checked every few months, but you just take each day as it comes.

By anon338306 — On Jun 12, 2013

I have recently been told I am suffering from damage to my cervical spine. The term "myelomalacia" was not used. I have requested a copy of the MRI results which makes mention of the term and the seriousness of the problem.

I am also experiencing difficulties in breathing, which I mentioned to the surgeon, and have been placed on a waiting list for a steroid injection, when I think I should be treated as an emergency patient, especially since I have now learned myelomalacia can be fatal if it causes paralysis of the respiratory system. I am now wondering if I am experiencing the onset of paralysis!

By anon333100 — On May 02, 2013

I have Myelomalacia, caused by a building disc in my neck. Four years ago I had the disc removed, so I am now stable. While I have a great deal of trouble walking, I use a cane or walker and use a scooter for any distance of more than say, 50 meters.

I work five days a week running my own import company, visit customers locally and travel internationally to visit suppliers, and on holidays, drive my car etc. and get on with life. While I do have to be careful of loss of feeling, balance, etc., I find the best thing is to get on with life and don't let it stop you. You only live once. Make the most of what you've got.

By anon324029 — On Mar 07, 2013

Please don't be scared of Myelomalacia. I have had it for at least three years and i am hanging in there.

By candyquilt — On Dec 31, 2012

@turquoise-- Yea, it is dangerous. My friend burned herself badly and didn't even feel it because of loss of feeling from myelomalacia.

I don't think anything can be done about it. I know that for some spinal injuries and spine cancer there are surgeries that can help. For example, if there is nerve damage, they can do nerve fusion by surgery. But myelomalacia is like spinal cord degeneration, so it's not possible to fix it and bring back feeling like that.

By turquoise — On Dec 30, 2012

I heard that the numbness caused by myelomalacia is dangerous because the person might not feel an injury when it happens.

Is there any way to get the feeling back once numbness has set in?

By fify — On Dec 29, 2012

@anon299154-- I'm sorry to hear that. Do you know how bad it is and when it happened?

My sister has also been diagnosed recently with myelomalacia in her neck. She had been experiencing alternating numbness and pain in her neck area due to spinal cord compression after a car accident several years ago. The neck injury she had from the car accident led to myelomalacia.

Right now she's on pain relievers and physical therapy. It is frustrating because there isn't much that can be done. She just has to make sure not to suffer from any additional injuries so that the myelomalacia doesn't get worse.

Hang in there and keep your spirits up. I think morale is very important for all illnesses. And medicine is developing and stem cell therapy sounds so promising.

By anon299154 — On Oct 23, 2012

I just found out I have this in the lumbar region! I'm kind of scared, but hopeful. I still need more tests.

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