Spinal cord compression is any mechanism that puts pressure on your spinal cord. This is usually a physical mechanism, such as a disc that ruptures inward, spinal stenosis, spinal trauma, or tumor. It causes symptoms ranging from mild weakness to total paralysis. Depending on where the compression of the cord occurs, you can have symptoms in your arms, legs, or problems with your bowel and bladder. Cord compression can often be treated, but a severed cord is still a condition that has a permanent set of disabilities associated with it.
Matt was driving his car home from work one night when he was t-boned by a drunk driver coming the other way. Although he was wearing his seatbelt, Matt experienced several broken and crushed vertebrae in his lower back. With surgery, the doctors were able to reconstruct his vertebrae, but the swelling from the trauma is still pressing against his spinal cord. With physical therapy and a medication regimen, it is expected that the swelling will decrease, and he will not have pain in his legs anymore.
At the SoCal Pain Center, we know how painful nerve pain can be, and when the spinal cord is compressed, it has a tendency to amplify the symptoms. We can help you with physical therapy for deconditioned limbs, medication management to stay on top of your pain, and possible surgical intervention should it be necessary.
Many conditions can cause spinal cord compression. The most obvious cause is direct physical trauma to the spinal column. When the vertebrae of the spinal column are fractured, these pieces of bone can press in on the spinal cord and cause symptoms from that level. A spinal tumor can also press against the cord and cause symptoms, either from a cancer that started elsewhere in the body or from a cancer that has arisen out of the spinal tissue itself.
Arthritis is another common cause of spinal cord compression. The breakdown of the facet joints of the spine can cause the vertebrae to slip against each other. This leads to narrowing of the spinal canal, or spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis can also be caused by a disc that ruptures in towards the cord. If the rupture is big enough, it can compress the cord enough to cause symptoms. Abnormal alignment of the spine, such as in kyphosis or scoliosis, can cause the canal to become too narrow and press against the cord. Finally, infection of the membranes that surround the spinal cord can cause it to become compressed.
The most common symptom of spinal cord compression is pain and stiffness in the area of the back that is affected. This is because the cord is sending false or confused pain signals from that area, and the brain interprets it as pain. In addition, the pain can spread to the arms, legs, chest, and abdomen, and this happens because the nerve roots that serve the rest of the body are also affected. The pain can be sharp, burning, tingling, or electric.
You may also feel numbness and cramping in your arms or legs. Many people often lose control of their extremities, and that can manifest as foot drop. Essentially, this means that you cannot hold your foot up to take a step and wind up tripping over it. Weakness and eventually paralysis can come from severe or untreated spinal compression. You can also lose the ability to use your hands in the same fashion, and your overall coordination may suffer. Finally, the loss of sexual ability, bowel and bladder dysfunction, and severe pain indicate that the problem is more complex.
The treatment for spinal cord compression is often multi-factorial. First, medications are used to control swelling around the cord and control pain. This includes non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, but it may also entail steroid injections directly into the swollen area of the cord to reduce swelling. Pain medication may be necessary, and this could include narcotic pain medications. For nerve pain that results from spinal compression, medications that have been found useful for nerve problems, such as tricyclic antidepressants and some anti-seizure medications, may be prescribed.
Physical therapy to strengthen the back muscles is vital to helping the spine heal itself. In addition, it keeps the extremities from becoming deconditioned due to lack of movement. You may also need braces to keep your back or neck in alignment and reduce pain. Chiropractic can help to realign the spine and take pressure off of the cord. It is important to visit an experienced chiropractor to ensure that the adjustments are performed correctly.
In rare cases or cases involving trauma, surgery may be necessary. This could include inserting hardware to keep the spine in alignment, or surgery to remove bone fragments or parts of a disc to decompress the spine. The vertebrae could also be fused together to keep them from moving and putting pressure on the spine.
At SoCal Pain Center, we understand how painful and confusing spinal compression can be. Whether it is from trauma or the spinal stenosis of age, we can help you deal with your pain via medications, physical therapy, and chiropractic. Contact us today for a consultation.