Myelopathy

Because our vertebrae house and protect the spinal cord, it’s hard to see how the nerves that make up the spinal cord could be injured other than by some violent shearing during trauma, such as in a car accident.

Actually, most cases of injury to the spinal cord, known as myelopathy, occur slowly over many years. This gradual compression of the spinal cord can lead to loss of function, chronic pain, and other serious problems.

Let’s get into myelopathy.

What causes myelopathy?

Myelopathy can be caused by trauma and congenital spinal issues, but the most typical cause is degenerative disc disease. This occurs as the discs between our vertebrae wear and flatten due to a lifetime of use and stress. When the discs become thinner, the vertebrae respond by creating bone spurs. As these spurs grow, they can easily begin to enter the spinal canal and press on the spinal cord. Also, a herniated or bulging disc can push on the spinal cord or on nerve roots exiting the cord.

What are the signs and symptoms of a spinal cord injury?

Spinal cord compression can lead to a loss of sensation, loss of function, and pain or discomfort in the direct area of the compression or in areas served by the nerves involved. These are typical symptoms of myelopathy:

  • Tingling, numbness, or weakness, usually in extremities such as the hands
  • Neck, arm, leg, or lower back pain
  • Difficulty with fine motor skills, such a holding a pen for writing
  • Increased reflexes or abnormal reflexes in the extremities
  • Difficulty with walking and balance
  • Loss or urinary and bowel control

Different types of myelopathy

Myelopathy can occur in any part of the spine. It is named for the section involved.

  • Cervical myelopathy — This is the most common form of myelopathy, occurring in the cervical spine, vertebrae C1-C7. Neck pain and shoulder pain are symptoms of cervical myelopathy.
  • Thoracic myelopathy — This middle section of the spine is the longest, comprised of vertebrae T1-T12, and is less prone to myelopathy. Compression in this section of the spine is usually due to bulging or herniated discs, bone spurs, or spinal trauma.
  • Lumbar myelopathy — Spinal cord damage is rare in the lumbar spine, vertebrae L1-L5. This is because the spinal cord ends in the top section of the lumbar spine.

In June’s second blog we’ll get into myelopathy a little more. If you have symptoms that you’re suffering from myelopathy or any other chronic back pain, give Dr. Tinley a call at DFW Center for Spinal Disorders, (817) 916-4685.

Posted in: Myelopathy

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