Spinal myelopathy is an umbrella term to describe any issue that results in compression of the spinal cord. It doesn’t matter if the compression is due to physical trauma or a birth defect, if it leads to spinal cord compression, it is considered myelopathy. Below, we take a closer look at the causes, symptoms and treatment options for spinal myelopathy.
Myelopathy Causes and Symptoms
We touched on the causes of myelopathy in the introduction, but there are a few other common causes of the condition. Trauma to the spinal cord is the most common cause of spinal myelopathy, but other causes include congenital spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal in which the cord is housed), degenerative disc disease or due to a herniation of a spinal disc.
Myelopathy can occur at any level of the spine, and is categorized based on the location in which it appears.
- Cervical Myelopathy – This occurs when the spinal cord is compressed in the neck region, and it’s the most common form of myelopathy.
- Thoracic Myelopathy – This involves myelopathy of the middle region of your spine, and is often caused by a disc issue or the onset of bone spurs.
- Lumbar Myelopathy – Lumbar myelopathy is categorized by pain in the lowest part or lumbar portion of the spine. This type of myelopathy is pretty rare based on the design of the spinal cord.
Symptoms vary based on the location of the compression, but the most common symptoms include:
- Localized pain
- Inhibited fine motor skills
- Difficulty walking
- Delayed reflexes
- Loss of bladder control
- Balance problems
Diagnosing and Treating Spinal Myelopathy
Since symptoms of myelopathy are not unique to the condition, your doctor is going to need to conduct some additional testing to provide you with an accurate diagnosis. Aside from a physical exam and listening to you about your symptoms, your doctor may also order imaging tests like an X-ray to rule out other problems, or an MRI to take a closer look at the compressed cord. Other tests may also be used, but an X-ray and MRI are the two most common methods.
Treating myelopathy comes down to treating the underlying cause of compression. If bone spurs or a disc issue are causing the compression, conservative methods can help relieve the problem. Nonsurgical management techniques can be considered for mild forms of myelopathy they include physical therapy, bracing, injections, rehabilitation exercises, stretching programs, and anti-inflammatory medications.
Should those methods fail, or if conservative care options are unlikely to address the issue, surgery may be performed. The surgery is decompressive in nature, meaning the goal of the operation is to free what’s compressing the spinal cord. This may involve removing part of a disc, widening the canal through which the spinal cord runs through, or eliminating spinal bone spurs. Your doctor can walk you through your specific surgery based on your exact circumstances.
For more information about cervical myelopathy, reach out to Dr. Sinicropi today.