The spinal cord is the main pathway for information traveling from the brain to the peripheral nervous system. Myelopathy describes any neurologic symptoms related to the spine cord as a result of spinal stenosis, a disc herniation, and bone spurs. Myelopathy is a very serious condition that if untreated can lead to significant and permanent nerve damage including paralysis and death.
Causes of myelopathy include anything the compresses or injures the spinal cord. This could include a disc herniation, spinal stenosis (term for narrowed room around the spinal cord), bone spurring, or can even be caused by trauma.
Symptoms may affect one’s gait and balance, fine motor skills including dexterity, grip strength, and bowel and bladder function. It can impinge nerve roots and cause radiculopathy to create pain, weakness, or sensory changes in either arms or legs. Positional sense of both arms and legs may be affected making it difficult to use arm and hands and to know where you are placing your feet as you walk.
Any of these symptoms are important to recognize and require urgent medical evaluation.
During your initial consultation a thorough medical history is obtained looking for symptoms such as difficulty with balance or dexterity which may indicate myelopathy. Also patients will undergo a comprehensive physical exam to evaluate for any abnormal exam findings such as hyper-reflexia which raises the clinical suspicion for myelopathy. Further diagnostic tests and imaging should be ordered if any abnormalities are found on exam or noted by the patient. These studies could include MRI scan, CT scan, myelogram, x-rays and possibly nerve testing (EMG).
Myelopathy is a serious condition that can cause permanent spinal cord injury and if left untreated can lead to significant and permanent nerve damage including paralysis and death. Surgical intervention is warranted in most cases of myelopathy. There are multiple different surgical approaches and procedures which exist to treat spinal stenosis. Each surgical plan is specific to the patient based on their spinal needs. All surgical plans share a common goal of relieving pressure on the spinal cord.
“My only regret is that I didn’t have spine surgery years ago. It has literally changed my life.”
Reviewed by: Dr. Christopher Good, MD, FACS.