Symptoms Of Spinal Cord Compression: Its Causes And Treatment

Spinal cord compression is a condition wherein the spinal cord is being compressed by fragmented bones and other factors. The condition needs immediate medical attention to prevent long-term disability. Patients need to know its causes and its corresponding treatment options.

  • Spinal cord compression can occur all throughout the spine. It can occur in the cervical or neck area and is termed as cervical spondylotic myelopathy, in the lumbar sacral or lower back, or in the thoracic area or chest level.
  • Symptoms usually vary depending on the area of the compression but generally, patients will feel weakness and loss of sensation below the point of where the compression lies.
  • The severity of the pain and other symptoms will depend on whether all of the cord is compressed or partially compressed.
  • Other symptoms include difficulty in breathing, numbness, inability to control bowel and bladder, changes in sensations, spasticity, pain, weakness and paralysis. Loss of bowel and bladder control usually leads to constipation, bladder spasms, and incontinence.
  • A CT scan or an MRI is usually used to know extent of compression along with other problems like formation of blood clots or hematomas. Myelogram or an x-ray of the spine after dye injections, somatosensory evoked potential, and spine x-rays are also used to properly diagnose condition.

What Causes Spinal Cord Compression?

Some of the common causes of compression of the spinal cord include the following:

  • Inflammatory Diseases: Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis can weaken the spinal cord which can lead to compression.
  • Spinal Stenosis: This happens when the spine becomes too narrow due to aging.
  • Injury: Fragmented bones that are from damaged spine bones, vertebra or disks can damage spinal cord along with metal fragments from traffic accidents and gunshot wounds.
  • Bleeding and fluid accumulation in and outside of the spinal cord but within the spinal canal can cause compression and severe damage.
  • Tumors, abscess, infections, and congenital abnormalities of the vertebrae are other causes of spinal cord compression.

Treatment For Compression Of The Spinal Cord

The condition is considered as a medical emergency that needs immediate treatment to prevent or reduce long-term effects. Time element between injury and treatment is a significant factor that greatly affects its outcome.

  • Corticosteroids can be used to decrease swelling that is associated with the damage in the spinal cord. Administration of this medication should begin as soon as possible after the injury or the compression.
  • Surgery: This can help in removing the tissues that compress the spinal cord. Removing fragmented bones and disk or foreign objects, fusing broken or damaged spinal bones and placing spinal braces.
  • Complete bed rest is recommended to allow proper healing of the bones of the spine.
  • Spinal Traction: This keeps the spine from making unnecessary movements. The skull can be held in its place with metal braces that is placed in the skull and then attached to a harness on the body. These braces need to be worn for a long period of time.
  • Administration of extensive physical and occupational therapy.
  • Spasticity of the muscle can be relieved by oral medications and those that are directly injected to the spinal canal. Botox injections can also help along with pain killers and muscle relaxers.