The pain caused by a spinal cord herniation can have you in agony. A progressive thoracic myelopathy can develop, making it very important to get treatment. Whether it started a day or a decade ago, the discomfort and other symptoms can put your life on hold. Seeking a diagnosis is the first step toward getting your life back — pain-free.
About Spinal Cord Herniation
In the majority of cases, spinal cord herniations result from a weakness in the dura, the tough, fibrous tissue casing that protects your spinal cord. They occur most often in the thoracic region of your spine. This is the area of your spine that attaches to your ribs. The cause for most of these weaknesses is unknown, but genetics or injury to the area may play a part.
When there is a weakness in the dural layer, the spinal cord will naturally start to conform to and then move through the hole in the dural layer. This can cause pinching of the spinal cord and the nerve roots.
Common Symptoms of Spinal Cord Herniation
One of the most common signs of spinal cord herniation is thoracic back pain that worsens over time. It may be constant or intermittent. It may even extend around your ribs and chest or up into your shoulders. If you’re experiencing numbness in your arms or legs or noticing that you’re having difficulty walking, these are other symptoms of a spinal cord herniation.
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to be assessed right away; they can be associated with other serious conditions that could be life-threatening.
Diagnosis of Spinal Cord Herniation
Your doctor will first ask you questions and then give you a physical exam to rule out other potential causes of your symptoms. You may undergo a neurological exam, and if it is suspected you may have a spinal cord herniation, you will be referred for imaging. This can include X-rays, an MRI or CT scan. These imaging studies will allow your doctor to see the full scope of your spine and pinpoint any abnormalities. A spinal cord herniation is usually visible without a dye study, but in some cases, a myelogram (injection of X-ray-visible dye) will be recommended to better see the length of the spinal canal.
Treatment Options for Spinal Cord Herniation
Conservative treatment for your spinal cord herniation may first be recommended. This can include rest, physical therapy, anti-inflammatories and pain management. Surgery is usually the recommended course of action. This surgery involves carefully separating the spinal cord from the dura and easing it back into the spinal canal. The dura is then closed to prevent the spinal cord from emerging back through the hole. Many people experience relief quickly with this procedure.