• London Spinal Partnership

Talk to me about Tarlov cysts

What are they?

Tarlov cysts are cerebrospinal fluid filled sacs that are usually found in the spinal cord. It is common for them to affect the nerve roots within the sacrum section of the back. The cause of these cysts is currently unknown and do not usually cause any symptoms. Commonly, tarlov cysts will be found when undergoing diagnostic investigations for a different health condition.

As the cysts grow larger, it is more likely that the patient will experience symptoms as the cyst will compress the nerve root. Symptoms associated with tarlov cysts are:

· Sudden sharp burning pain in the lower back/ hip area

· Weakness and numbness

· Sexual dysfunction

· Constipation

· Headache pain due to CSF pressure

· Difficulty sitting or walking for a long period of time

· General pain

Tarlov cysts are known for mimicking the symptoms of other conditions and can make it very difficult for a doctor to diagnose the condition, especially if they have not come across this type of cyst before. The best way to diagnosis tarlov cysts is to have an MRI scan as it can show clear images of any cysts that are protruding the nerves and spinal cord.

If the cyst is small in size and not causing any symptoms it is best to leave it until the cyst grows and starts to change quality of life. By monitoring the growth of the cyst and ensuring that the patient is not in any discomfort, you can try to avoid surgical intervention for as long as possible.

To reduce inflammation and irritation affecting the nerve roots medications such as NSAIDS can be prescribed. Electrical nerve stimulation ( a TENS machine) can also be used to help the pain.

In some cases patients will be offered to have their cyst drained or shunted to relieve the pressure that is affecting the nerve roots; however there is still a chance that the cyst will return.

By injecting the cyst with fibrin glue at the source, it will help to reduce the pain and number of symptoms that the patient is getting from their tarlov cyst. Fibrin glue can also be used to seal and close the cyst and prevent it from filling up again.

Surgical treatment routes all depend on how symptomatic the patient is, the size of the cyst and whether it is responding to less invasive methods. Some patients will get great results from the above treatments and will feel results almost immediately, whereas other patient will not respond to these treatments.

If your consultant decided that surgery is the next step for you, they will choose a treatment route that is specifically tailored to your individual needs. As mentioned before it is likely that surgical intervention will only be used if conservative methods of treatment are not successful. One surgical method that can be used to remove tarlov cysts is drainage; during this procedure fluid is drained from the cyst then cut out to from the spine

This article is intended to inform and give insight but not treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a doctor. Always seek medical advice with any questions regarding a medical condition.


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