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Your spinal cord has nerves that send signals or messages back and forth between your brain and the rest of your body. Spinal cord compression occurs when a mass places pressure on the cord. A mass can include a tumor or bone fragment. Compression can develop anywhere along the spinal cord from the neck to the lower spine.
The symptoms of spinal cord compression can vary. They depend on how severe the compression is and on what area of the spinal cord is compressed.
One of the most common symptoms is stiffness or pain in the back or the neck. Numbness or weakness in the legs, hands, and arms can also develop. A condition known as cauda equina syndrome can develop if the compression is in the lumbar area. The symptoms of this syndrome include:
Spinal cord compression affects fine motor skills and coordination.
Spinal cord compression has many possible causes. The compression can come on suddenly in some cases. Compression can occur over time in other instances. The causes of spinal cord compression include the following:
Anyone can have an injury or develop a condition that leads to spinal cord compression. A few factors may increase your risk. Use of poor lifting techniques may increase your risk of a neck or back injury, which can cause spinal cord compression. People who have osteoarthritis may also be at an increased risk for developing spinal cord compression.
Doctors can diagnose spinal cord compression by performing a medical history and an exam, along with an X-ray of the spine and a CT scan or MRI test. Both a CT and MRI can provide a detailed image of your spine.
The doctor may order a myelogram in some cases. This involves injecting dye into your spinal area and then taking a CT scan of that area.
Treatment for a spinal compression depends on the causes and the severity of the compression. Your doctor may recommend reduced physical activity or immobilization. Treatment plans can include the following:
Surgery may be an option if more conservative treatments don’t work. The appropriate type of surgery depends on the cause of the compression. Surgeons can fuse vertebrae together, remove bone spurs, or increase the space between the vertebrae.
The cause of the compression along with the severity of symptoms affects your outlook. Some people respond well to treatment while others may not.
It may not be possible to prevent spinal cord compression in all cases because there are so many possible causes. Maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular exercise can help reduce added pressure on the back and symptoms of a cord compression. Learning how to lift properly may decrease your likelihood of injury.
Written by: MaryAnn DePietro
Medically reviewed on: Aug 01, 2016: William Morrison, MD
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