If you have pain across your upper back, neck, and shoulders in the areas that would be touched by a cape if you wore one, you may have what is called syringomyelia. This is not a medical condition, but it is a result or symptom of a disorder of or injury to the spinal cord. Here's what you need to know.
Syringomyelia is the medical word used to describe the formation of cysts filled with cerebrospinal fluid in the spinal cord. This type of cyst is called a syrinx and it can elongate and get wider over time, which damages the tissues of the spinal cord. A syrinx can block the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid, which can ultimately lead to complete paralysis if the syrinx is left untreated and/or continues to grow.
Syringomyelia can be caused by a condition called Chiari malformation, which is when the base of the brain herniates into the spinal cord. This malformation blocks the spinal fluid, which can cause a syrinx to form. In fact, it's been estimated that 30-50% of Chiari patients have syringomyelia. Spinal cord injuries and tumors in the spinal cord can also cause syringomyelia.
When left untreated, especially for a long time, back pain can develop from damage to the spinal cord. In addition to having "cape effect" pain, other symptoms can include:
- loss of muscular strength in arms and legs
- stiffness in muscles and joints
- numbness in face, hands, and feet
- difficulty regulating body temperature
- loss of bowel and bladder control
The symptoms can vary depending on the location and size of the syrinx in the spinal cord. They can develop and progress over time. Therefore, it can take months or years for syringomyelia to develop.
Don't dismiss the possibility that you may have syringomyelia if you don't currently have any other symptoms. It's better to be safe than sorry and seek a medical diagnosis for the neck, shoulder, and back pain you are experiencing.
Syringomyelia is initially diagnosed through an MRI or a CT scan. However, since fluid movement cannot be seen on a still photo, cine MRIs are also necessary to confirm the severity of any blockage of the spinal fluid. A cine MRI is a type of magnetic resonance imaging that records a video of the flow of the spinal fluid. Because this imaging produces a video of your spinal fluid instead of still images, cine MRIs take longer to perform than regular MRIs. You will need to see a neurosurgeon or a neurologist for this testing and a diagnosis.
Treatment for syringomyelia depends on the cause of the condition, but typically includes surgery and/or pain management through medication, physical therapy, and psychological therapy. Unfortunately, treatment does not reverse damage to the spinal cord and nervous system. Therefore, your physician will need to keep a watchful eye on your syrinx and the flow of your spinal fluid. That means you'll be asked to have a cine MRI each time your symptoms change, if they do.
Some patients with syringomyelia never require surgical intervention or prescription medication and physical therapy for pain management. Others may need every possible treatment available as they try to find relief from their symptoms. Only a qualified spinal cord specialist, neurosurgeon, or neurologist can determine the possible long-term outcome of syringomyelia based on the individual patient. The causes, symptoms, and treatment of syringomyelia are not a one-size-fits-all scenario. Therefore, it's difficult to describe a general prognosis for this condition. Due to this, it is important that you consult with your medical team for your prognosis. For more information, consider sites like http://swfna.com.