• London Spinal Partnership

What is Arachnoiditis?

Arachnoiditis is a painful condition that effects the spine. It is caused when the arachnoid lining, which is in the middle layer of three membranes surrounding and protecting the brain and nerves of the spinal cord becomes inflamed. This condition can be debilitating and cause a burning, stinging sensation to travel down the back. Arachnoiditis can also be associated with neurological problems.

What causes arachnoiditis?

The condition often starts after trauma to the spine, this can include surgery, injury or epidural injection. Causes include:

Direct injury to the spine

Chemicals dye used in myelograms (diagnostic tests in which a dye called radiographic contrast media is injected into the area surrounding the spinal cord and nerves). The radiographic contrast media responsible for this is no longer used, however there is concern that the preservatives found in epidural steroid injections may cause arachnoiditis.

Infection from bacteria or viruses.

Chronic compression of spinal nerves. For example, chronic degenerative disc disease or advanced spinal stenosis.

Complications from spinal surgery or other invasive spinal procedures.

Symptoms of arachnoiditis

Symptoms can vary depending on which nerve or area of the spinal cord is damaged by the inflammation. Some of the more common symptoms include intense pain in the injured area; this can affect the lower back, legs, buttocks or feet. In more severe cases, arachnoiditis can cause debilitating pain throughout the whole body. If the symptoms become worse and are left untreated it can cause permanent disability.

Symptoms include:

Tingling, numbness or weakness in the legs

A crawling sensation on the skin

Severe shooting pain

Muscle cramps, spasms and uncontrollable twitching

Bladder, bowel and possible sexual dysfunction

How to diagnose arachnoiditis

Arachnoiditis is not any easy condition to diagnose as the symptoms are similar to other nerve problems in the back. If the patient has had a recent, known trauma to the back it can make it a lot easier to diagnose. If the consultant believes that you have arachnoiditis, they will carry out a CT scan and/or an MRI scan. The results of the scans will be used to assess whether there is any nerve damage and if the nerve roots have clumped together; if they have this will confirm that the patient has arachnoiditis.

How can arachnoiditis be treated?

Although there is no cure for arachnoiditis, treatments can be used to relieve pain and also improve symptoms so that the patient can have a better quality of life. Consultants will often recommend physiotherapy, to help regain movement in the affected area of the body. Surgical options such as decompression and foraminoplasty can also be used to release the pressure.

For many patients with arachnoiditis, serious disability and chronic pain will be part of the condition, in many cases this can lead the patient experiencing periods of depression. Therapy is strongly recommended to help the patient come to terms with the conditions and teach them to some t terms with the physical and emotional strain.

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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