Spinal cord compression (patient information)
Spinal cord compression
Spinal cord compression On the Web
Risk calculators and risk factors for Spinal cord compression
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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. ; Associate Editor(s)-In-Chief:; Assistant Editor(s)-In-Chief: Aditya Ganti M.B.B.S. 
The spinal cord provides nerves to the body including the bladder, arms, and legs. If there is a mass like structure in the bones of the spine (vertebrae) or in the tissues around the spinal cord it can cause pressure (compression) on the spinal cord. This can cause pain, altered sensation and weakness. Spinal cord compression is not common usually but happens to one in 20 people affected by cancer.
What are the symptoms of Spinal cord compression?
- Back pain
- Increased muscle tone (spasticity)
- Loss of normal bowel and bladder control (may include constipation, incontinence, bladder spasms)
- Sensory changes
What causes Spinal cord compression?
- Any trauma to back
- Disc prolapse
- Vertebral compression fractures
- An abscess or blood clot around the spine
Who is at highest risk?
People with underlying spine disease are at high risk of developing spinal cord compression than normal people.
- Cervical spondylosis
- Atlantoaxial instability
- Congenital conditions (tethered cord)
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Rheumatoid arthritis of the cervical spine
A physical examination shows point tenderness, muscle weakness and loss of reflexes. Tests may include:
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- C-reactive protein (CRP)
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)
- MRI of the bone
When to seek urgent medical care?
Call your health care provider if:
- You develop symptoms of spinal cord compression
Surgery is the mainstay of treatment in localized compression. Emergency radiation therapy (usually 20 Gray in 5 fractions) is the mainstay of treatment for malignant spinal cord compression. It is very effective as pain control and local disease control. Some tumors are highly sensitive to chemotherapy (e.g. lymphomas, small cell lung cancer) and may be treated with chemotherapy alone.
Where to find medical care for Spinal cord compression?
Directions to Hospitals Treating spinal cord compression
- Proper safety practices during work can prevent spinal cord injuries.
What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?
- Prognosis is poor even with adequate treatment if the syndrome is complete (quadriparesis and with no sensory preservation), and recovery is less than 5%.