in the canyon

Spinal Cord Disorders

What are spinal cord disorders?

Spinal cord disorders are injuries and diseases that damage the spinal cord, which carries signals between the brain and the rest of the body. Damage to the spinal cord can disrupt these signals, which can affect bodily functions and cause permanent disability.

Some spinal cord disorders originate outside the spinal cord. These include disorders caused by spinal injuries or compression of the spinal cord. The spinal cord may be compressed by bone due to a fracture or degenerative condition, a hematoma, an abscess, or a ruptured or herniated disc. Less often, spinal cord disorders originate inside the spinal cord due to conditions such as inflammation, tumors, abscesses, autoimmune diseases, and bleeding.

Spinal Cord Disorders Symptoms

Symptoms vary depending on the location and severity of the damage to the spinal cord. They may include:

  • Back pain
  • Changes in reflexes
  • Diminished sweating
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Loss of sensation
  • Paralysis
  • Weakness

Spinal Cord Disorders Treatments

If you suddenly experience symptoms of spinal cord disorders, such as loss of sensation or paralysis, you should immediately go to the emergency room. Early treatment of certain causes may prevent permanent disability. Treatment options depend on the cause and severity of the damage to the spinal cord.

Rehabilitation can help you recover as much function as possible. The professional care team may include:

  • Counselor
  • Nurse
  • Nutritionist
  • Occupational therapist
  • Physical therapist
  • Psychologist
  • Social worker
common disorders of the spinal cord
An Illustration showing of some of the common disorders of the spinal cord: syrinx (blue oval), cavernous malformation (red oval), and arteriovenous fistula (purple blood vessel).

Additional Information

How common are spinal cord disorders?

Taken as a whole, spinal cord disorders are common. However, some individual spinal cord disorders are quite rare.

Who gets spinal cord disorders?

Anyone can be affected by a spinal cord disorder, which may be caused by:

  • Abscesses
  • Autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and Guillian-Barré syndrome
  • Birth defects, such as spina bfida
  • Degenerative conditions, such as spinal stenosis
  • Infectious diseases, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), polio, meningitis, and syphilis
  • Inflammatory conditions, such as transverse myelitis
  • Syrinxes
  • Trauma
  • Tumors
  • Vascular malformations, such as spinal arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) and fistulas

How are spinal cord disorders diagnosed?

Damage to the spinal cord often causes specific patterns of symptoms based on the location of the damage. By identifying which movements or bodily functions are affected, your physician may be able to determine which part of the spinal cord is damaged.

Your physician may use the following to diagnose a spinal cord disorder and identify its cause:

  • Family history
  • Imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT), and X-ray scans
  • Physical examination
  • Medical history
  • Neurological examination

Additional Resources

Spinal Cord Disorders — National Library of Medicine