Spinal Cord Compression - Symptoms, Types, Causes & Diagnosis

Spinal Cord Compression - Symptoms, Types, Causes & Diagnosis

Many symptoms, including discomfort, numbness, tingling, weakness, and trouble moving, can be brought on by this compression. In extreme circumstances, spinal cord compression can cause long-term problems including paralysis...

Your spinal cord: small in size, but mighty in function - All you need to know about Spinal cord compression.

An Outline

A disease known as spinal cord compression happens when the spinal cord and the nerves that surround it are crushed or compressed by adjacent structures, such as a herniated disc, tumor, or bone spur.

Many symptoms, including discomfort, numbness, tingling, weakness, and trouble moving, can be brought on by this compression. In extreme circumstances, spinal cord compression can cause long-term problems including paralysis or other long-term impairments.

Many areas of the spine, particularly the neck (cervical spine) and lower back, are susceptible to spinal cord compression (lumbar spine). Several things, including aging-related wear and tear, injuries, infections, or certain medical problems, might contribute to the disease.

For the spinal cord to be spared more harm and for the likelihood of a full recovery, early identification and treatment are crucial.

This article will shed light on the causes, symptoms, and treatment plan.

Know the Commonness of Spinal Cord Compression

People of all ages can suffer from spinal cord compression, which is a somewhat common ailment. Depending on the underlying reason and the demographic being researched, spinal cord compression is more common in certain people than others.

According to a study that was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), spinal cord compression due to degenerative changes is more common as people age, with an estimated prevalence of 5% in those between the ages of 50 and 59, 9% in those between the ages of 60 and 69, and 20% in those over the age of 70.

Spinal cord compression can also occur as a result of other conditions, such as tumors or infections. The prevalence of spinal cord compression due to tumors is estimated to be around 5-10% of all spinal cord compression cases, while the prevalence of spinal cord compression due to infections is relatively rare.

It's important to note that the prevalence of spinal cord compression may be underestimated as many cases may go undiagnosed or unreported.

From degenerative to spinal stenosis: know the complexities of spinal cord compression.

Based on the underlying reason and location of the compression, several forms of spinal cord compression can be identified. These are a few of the more popular varieties:

  • Degenerative spinal cord compression: This kind of spinal cord compression is brought on by the deterioration of the spine that comes with aging, which can lead to the spinal canal becoming smaller and the spinal cord being compressed.
  • Herniated disc: Pressure is put on the spinal cord or nerve roots when a tear in a spinal disc's outer layer causes the soft, jelly-like core to emerge.
  • Spinal stenosis: Spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal, may put pressure on the spinal cord. Spinal stenosis might result in aging processes in the spine, such as bone spurs or larger ligaments.
  • Tumors: Tumors that grow in or around the spinal cord can cause spinal cord compression by putting pressure on the cord or nerve roots.

Spinal cord compression, the silent thief of mobility - Know the causes.

This pressure can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  1. Herniated Discs: The discs in the spine serve as cushions between the vertebrae. The spinal cord may experience compression if a disc herniates and presses up against it.
  2. Spinal Stenosis: A narrowing of the spinal canal known as spinal stenosis may exert pressure on the spinal cord. Spinal stenosis may be brought on by the spine's aging processes, such as bone spurs or thicker ligaments.
  3. Tumors: The spinal cord can be compressed by primary (tumors that start in the spinal cord) and secondary (tumors that have spread from another region of the body).
  4. Trauma: Spinal lead compression can result from trauma to the spine, such as fractures or dislocations.
  5. Infections: Spinal meningitis and abscesses are two examples of infections that can compress the spinal cord
  6. Degenerative disease: Spinal cord compression may result from degenerative disc disease, which is a condition where the discs between the vertebrae deteriorate over time.
  7. Paget's disease: Paget's disease is a bone condition that makes bones brittle and weakened, which can cause spinal cord damage.
  8. Osteoporosis: This disease causes the bones to deteriorate, making them more prone to fractures and spinal cord compression.
  9. Spondylolisthesis: A vertebra can fall out of position and onto the vertebra below it, a condition is known as spondylolisthesis. This can result in spinal cord compression and may be brought on by a congenital abnormality, degenerative disc disease, or old age.
  10. Rheumatoid Arthritis: Spinal cord compression can result from the inflammatory disease rheumatoid arthritis, which can cause inflammation in the joints of the spine.
  11. Ankylosing Spondylitis: Arthritis called spondylitis can fuse vertebrae, putting strain on the spinal cord. The spine is harmed by it.
  12. Kyphosis: The forward curvature of the spine, commonly known as kyphosis, may compress the spinal cord.

The entire situation of spinal cord compression.

  1. Osteomyelitis: Osteomyelitis is a bone infection that can affect the spine and pressure the spinal cord.
  2. Hematomas: Blood accumulations outside of blood vessels are known as hematomas. The spinal cord may get compressed if a hematoma develops in the spine and applies pressure on it.
  3. Epidural abscess: This is a rare condition in which an infection forms in the space between the spinal cord and the protective covering surrounding it, called the dura. This can cause spinal cord compression and requires immediate medical attention.

It is important to note that spinal cord compression can occur gradually over time or suddenly as a result of an injury or other event.

Don't ignore the signs of spinal cord compression

  • Depending on the extent and location of the compression, the symptoms and indicators of spinal cord compression might change. Typical warning signs and symptoms include:
  •  Neck or back pain
  •  Numbness or tingling in the arms, legs, or fingers
  • Weakness in the arms or legs
  •  Difficulty walking or staying balanced
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Difficulty controlling fine motor movements, like buttoning a shirt or using utensils
  • Muscle spasms or cramping
  • Less sensitivity to pain, temperature, or touch
  • Changes in reflexes, such as hyperreflexia
  • Difficulty standing from a seated position or difficulty rising from bed
  • Increased pain with movement or certain positions
  • Loss of coordination or balance

It is important to note that some people with spinal cord compression may not experience any symptoms at first, and the symptoms may develop gradually over time. In some cases, spinal cord compression can be a medical emergency, particularly if it is caused by trauma or an infection

Early diagnosis of signal cord compression is key to a successful recovery."

Several diagnostic tests can be used to evaluate signal cord compression, including clinical, radiographic, and laboratory tests. Here are some examples:

Clinical tests

  1. Neurological examination: The doctor will check your reflexes, strength, sensation, and coordination to assess the function of your spinal cord.
  2. Medical history: Your symptoms, medical background, and any prior wounds or procedures will all be questioned by the doctor.
  3. Electromyography (EMG) :Monitors the activity of muscles and nerves by electromyography (EMG) to assess nerve function and spot any anomalies.
  4. Somatosensory evoked potential (SSEP): Analyzes the electrical impulses produced by sensory stimulation in the brain and spinal cord to assess spinal cord function.

Radiographic tests

  1. X-ray: May find fractures, tumors, and other anomalies that could be compressing the spinal cord.
  2. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): With precise pictures of the spine and spinal cord obtained from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), one may determine the presence and degree of compression.
  3. Computed tomography (CT) scan: Can detect spinal fractures, disc herniations, and other abnormalities that may be compressing the spinal cord.
  4. Myelography: During myelography, a contrast dye is injected into the spinal canal to get a thorough X-ray image of the spinal cord's roots.
  5. Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: This can help identify areas of inflammation or cancer that may be compressing the spinal cord.

Laboratory tests

  1. Blood tests: May identify underlying disorders that may be compressing the spinal cord, such as infection, inflammation, or other illnesses.
  2. Analysis of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF): Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis may reveal irregularities in the fluid surrounding the spinal cord.
  3. Antibody testing: Testing for antibodies may be used to detect autoimmune diseases that are possibly causing strain on the spinal cord.
  4. Testing for viruses: May be used to identify viral infections that may be compressing the spinal cord.
  5. Genetic testing: It can be done to find hereditary conditions that may make spinal cord compression more likely.

Your spinal cord is precious, Protect it from compression: A comprehensive treatment approach.

The treatment of spinal cord compression depends on the underlying cause and the severity of the symptoms. In general, there are two main treatment options: medicines and surgical interventions.


Medications are often used to manage symptoms of spinal cord compression, but they do not treat the underlying cause.

  1. Pain medications: Painkillers such as acetaminophen, NSAIDs, or opioids may be prescribed to relieve pain.
  2. Steroids: Steroids such as prednisone or dexamethasone can reduce inflammation and swell around the spinal cord, which can relieve pressure on the nerves.
  3. Muscle relaxants: They may be prescribed to relieve muscle spasms that may be contributing to compression.
  4. Gabapentin or pregabalin: These medications are used to treat nerve pain and may help reduce pain and other symptoms associated with spinal cord compression.
  5. Baclofen or tizanidine: These medications are muscle relaxants and can be used to treat muscle spasms and stiffness that may contribute to spinal cord compression symptoms.
  6. Antidepressants: Amitriptyline and nortriptyline are examples of tricyclic antidepressants that can be used to relieve neuropathic pain brought on by spinal cord compression.
  7. Anti-seizure medications: Some anti-seizure medications such as carbamazepine or oxcarbazepine may be effective in reducing nerve pain associated with spinal cord compression.

However, medications are usually not sufficient as a standalone treatment, and patients with severe or progressive symptoms may require surgical intervention.

Surgical interventions 

  1. Discectomy: This procedure involves removing the part of the disc that is pressing on the spinal cord or nerve roots.

  2. Laminectomy: The disc's portion that is pushing on the spinal cord or nerve roots is removed during this treatment. To give the nerves more room, a laminectomy is a procedure in which a section of the bone (the lamina) that covers the spinal cord is removed.
  3. Spinal fusion:

To stabilize the spine and stop future compression, this operation involves joining two or more vertebrae.

  1. Vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty:

These minimally invasive procedures involve injecting bone cement into the collapsed vertebra to restore its height and reduce pain.

  1. Tumor removal: If the spinal cord compression is caused by a tumor, surgery to remove the tumor may be necessary. Depending on where and how severe the compression is, these symptoms might be moderate or severe, the surgeon may use various approaches, such as microsurgery, endoscopy, or radiation therapy.

It is crucial to report that the decision to undergo surgical intervention is not always straightforward, and depends on several factors such as the underlying cause, location, and severity of the spinal cord compression, as well as the patient's overall health and preferences.

When your spinal cord is under pressure, your life is too  Know the complications-

Some of the complications associated with spinal cord compression include:

  • Numbness and weakness: The compression of the spinal cord can cause numbness, tingling, and weakness in the arms, legs, or other parts of the body. These symptoms may be mild or severe depending on the location and severity of the compression.
  • Paralysis: Severe spinal cord compression can result in partial or complete paralysis of the limbs or even the entire body. This is a serious problem that may have a profound impact on someone's freedom and quality of life.
  • Pain: Spinal cord compression can cause persistent and severe pain in the back, neck, arms, or legs. The pain might be chronic or sporadic, and it could come with additional symptoms like numbness or weakness.
  • Bladder and bowel problems: Spinal cord compression can disrupt the communication between the brain and the bladder or bowel, leading to incontinence, difficulty urinating or defecating, or constipation.
  • Sexual dysfunction: Spinal cord compression can also affect sexual function by causing erectile dysfunction in men or reducing sexual sensation in both men and women.
  • Respiratory problems: In severe cases, spinal cord compression can affect breathing by causing weakness in the muscles involved in respiration, causing respiratory difficulties or shortness of breath.
  • Depression and anxiety: Chronic pain, disability, and loss of independence associated with spinal cord compression can lead to depression and anxiety, which can further worsen the individual's quality of life.

"Don't let spinal cord compression limit your potential."