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What is Spinal Inflammation?

By Steve R.
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Spinal inflammation is a term that refers to various neurological conditions that cause a person to suffer from back pain. Spinal inflammatory disorders stop the brain from communicating with the body below the point of the inflammation. These conditions, which can affect people of any age, may occur due to a viral infection or be related to an autoimmune disease. Treatment for this inflammation typically involves rest and medication.

One of the most widespread spinal inflammatory diseases is ankylosing spondylitis, which is a type of arthritis that afflicts the spine. Ankylosing spondylitis entails an inflammation in the ligaments and tendons that connect with the bone. This type of inflammation results in tissue wearing down and causing new bone to grow. This process of new bone growth hinders movement and may cause fusion between bones.

Another type of spinal inflammation is acute transverse myelitis, which prevents nerve impulses from being sent to the spinal cord. Acute transverse myelitis also affects areas around the spinal cord, particularly the thoracic region. This spinal inflammatory disease is caused by the immune system thinking that the body’s tissues are foreign substance, resulting in the body attacking its own tissues. This condition may occur during multiple sclerosis and bacterial infections, including syphilis and tuberculosis.

Spinal inflammatory disorders can also be the result of other conditions, including arachnoiditis, discitis, and osteoporosis. Arachnoiditis is an infection of the membranes bordering the spinal column. Discitis is an infection in the area between the vertebrae, and osteoporosis is the gradual decline of bone density.

Diagnosis of spinal inflammation includes a physical examination. Blood tests can also help to identify inflammatory diseases. Magnetic resonance imaging and X-rays may provide visual evidence of bone growths and changes in the spine. In some cases, such as ankylosing spondylitis, genetic testing may confirm spinal inflammation.

Besides back pain, which is typically more severe at night, spinal inflammatory disorder symptoms may include chills, fever, and exhaustion. Also, a person with a spinal inflammatory disorder may experience a need to urinate more often or may even lose bladder control completely. Other symptoms may include weakness in the limbs and spasms that may result in paralysis.

Treatment for spinal inflammation depends on the origin. In cases of infections, antibiotics and relaxation may be required. In instances of autoimmune disorders, anti-inflammatory medication and muscle relaxants may assist with pain. Other methods for treatment include plasma transfusion and physical therapy. In some instances, surgery may be needed to take out bony growths to relieve pressure. In severe cases, mechanical ventilation can help with breathing.

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Discussion Comments

By clintflint — On Sep 02, 2013

@Fa5t3r - We are a lot better than we used to be, though, and I know there have been some recent breakthroughs in spinal injuries because of stem cell research.

It's also true, as it says in the article, that often inflammation in the spine is caused by some other kind of disease, like tuberculosis and we are much better at treating those kinds of diseases now than we used to be.

By Fa5t3r — On Sep 01, 2013

@pleonasm - I think even if he did have that condition he might not have recovered completely. Spinal cord inflammation isn't really a minor injury, although I guess it depends on what has actually become inflamed.

All I know about the spine is that it seems like it can't be that complicated, but it actually is very complicated and delicate. Even with all our medical advances, we still aren't very good at solving spine problems.

By pleonasm — On Aug 31, 2013

This makes me think of the Downton Abbey story line where one of the men was injured at war and was told he basically would never walk again because his spine was severed.

Then, a few episodes on, he regained feeling in his feet and completely recovered. The doctor said that it must have been swelling, or inflammation of the spinal cord and that, with rest, it went away on its own.

Honestly, I was kind of annoyed that they played that out in that way, because it just seemed way too easy. I think they would have been better off exploring the different problems that came with an injury like that, rather than whisking it all away within a few episodes.

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