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Spinal Cord Compression

What is Spinal Cord Compression?

Spinal cord compression is a medical condition characterized by compression or pressure applied to the spinal cord leading to potential impairment of its normal function. The spinal cord plays a crucial role in transmitting signals between the brain and the rest of the body, and its compression may lead to permanent damage of its functioning.

Causes of Spinal Cord Compression

There are various factors that cause spinal cord compression including:

  • Herniated Discs: The displacement of intervertebral discs can compress the spinal cord, causing pain and neurological deficits.
  • Spinal Tumors: Benign or malignant tumors within or around the spinal cord can exert pressure on the neural tissue.
  • Trauma: Injuries such as fractures or dislocations of the spine can lead to compression of the spinal cord.
  • Degenerative Disc Disease: Age-related changes of the spine, including disc degeneration, can contribute to spinal cord compression.
  • Spinal Stenosis: Narrowing of the spinal canal can result in compression of the spinal cord, which often associated with ageing.

Symptoms of Spinal Cord Compression

The clinical presentation of spinal cord compression can vary depending on the location and severity of the compression. Common symptoms include:

  • Persistent and localized discomfort in the affected region either back or neck. 
  • Progressive weakness or numbness in the limbs.
  • Difficulty with balance and coordination.
  • Incontinence or difficulty with urinary and bowel control.
  • Shooting pain, tingling, or numbness radiating down the legs, also known as sciatica.

Diagnosis of Spinal Cord Compression

Your healthcare provider may collect a thorough medical history and perform a physical examination to assess neurological function of your spinal cord. Imaging studies may be ordered to rule out or confirm the diagnosis. These include: 

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): MRI provides detailed images of the spinal cord and surrounding structures.
  • CT Scan: Computed Tomography (CT) may be used to assess bony structures and identify fractures or dislocation.
  • Electrodiagnostic Tests: Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies help evaluate nerve function.

Treatment of Spinal Cord Compression

Spinal cord compression management involves the following:

  • Conservative Management: Mild cases may be managed with rest, physical therapy, and pain medications.
  • Medications: Anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, and pain medications may be prescribed to manage symptoms.
  • Radiation Therapy: For tumors causing spinal cord compression, radiation therapy may be employed to shrink or eliminate the tumor.
  • Surgery: Decompressive surgery may be necessary to alleviate pressure on the spinal cord, especially in cases of tumors or severe disc herniation.
  • The Society of British Neurological Surgeons
  • British Orthopaedic Association
  • British Association of Spine Surgeons
  • North American Spine Society