Spinal cord compression can be one of the most painful injuries to the back. With these injuries, the spinal cord is compressed by blood, bone, pus, tumors, or a herniated disc. A healthy spinal cord is protected by the spine, but some injuries and diseases can put added pressure on the spinal cord and spinal cord nerves, thereby causing pain. The pain may last only a few minutes, or in some cases, for days at a time.
The symptoms of spinal cord compression can range from mild to very severe. If the symptoms are mild, only some of the nerves are compressed along the spine. In that case, there may be some discomfort in the back area, muscle fatigue, and a tingling sensation. Depending on the cause of the compression, the back may be sensitive to the touch along the spine. In addition, reflexes, such as the urge to use the bathroom, may become exaggerated and cause the individual to have muscle spasms.
As the spinal cord compression becomes greater, the symptoms become more severe. Weakness of the back muscles, the inability to fully release the bladder, the loss of bowel and bladder control, and numbness to the legs or arms are common symptoms in worse cases. If the spinal cord nerves are so compressed that all impulses of the spinal cord nerves are affected, the individual may face paralysis.
As mentioned above, spinal cord compression can be caused by several different factors. For example, if the vertebrae are fractured, broken, dislocated, or malformed, the vertebrae can compress the spinal cord and nerves. Sometimes vertebrae break or fracture from an injury or accident, but other times they become fragile due to osteoporosis or certain kinds of cancer.
Ligaments and other connective tissue can cause spinal cord compression, if a traumatic injury to the back occurs. In addition, blood can pool in and around the spinal cord after an injury, as a result of a defect in the blood vessels, tumors, the use of certain anticoagulants and drugs, or bleeding disorders. In those cases, the blood can form a hematoma which puts undue pressure on the spinal cord. Also, a specific disorder, cauda equine syndrome, can also compress the spinal cord.
In most cases, individuals suffering from spinal cord compression can be diagnosed and treated to increase the ability to function or reverse the damage. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), medical doctors can see what section of the spinal cord is being compressed. In addition, a physical examination can tell many details about the section that is damaged. For example, if there is weakness and numbness in the legs, but not the arms, and if there is a loss of bowel and bladder control, the spinal cord may be compressed at the thoracic section.
Once the doctor finds out what is causing the compression and where the compression is occurring, surgery may be performed to alleviate the pressure. In addition, if a tumor is found to be the cause of the compression, a biopsy may be performed first. In some cases, corticosteroids may be administered to relieve the pain. Also, any blood or pus that has pooled around the spinal cord will be drained.