Myelopathy refers to any neurological issues related to the spinal cord, and covers a range of conditions. It is also known as spinal cord compression. Myelopathy is one of the most common causes of mobility issues in older individuals.
If you suffer from any back or coordination issues, it is crucial to see a spine doctor for an examination, diagnosis, and treatment. Delaying a doctor visit and subsequent proper therapy may make matters worse.
Types of Myelopathy
Myelopathy falls into different types depending where it occurs on the spine. These types include:
- Cervical myelopathy – spinal cord compression of the neck
- Lumbar myelopathy – affecting the lower spine. The least common type of myelopathy
- Thoracic myelopathy – affecting the mid-spine
- Central cord syndrome – an incomplete cervical spine traumatic injury
Most people diagnosed with myelopathy are aged 55 and over. Myelopathy usually results from a lifetime of wear and tear on the body.
However, a traumatic injury, such as those suffered in motor vehicles accidents or falls, are another common cause of myelopathy. Traumatic injuries most often result in central cord syndrome.
Less often, disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and infection cause myelopathy. Some people are born with spinal deformities predisposing them to myelopathy.
The compression on the spinal cord results from various spine issues. Among them:
- Spinal stenosis – narrowing of the parts of the spine through which nerve roots move
- Herniated discs – the bulging of these discs puts pressure on the spine
- Bone spurs
Pain and weakness are myelopathy’s primary symptoms. Many of these symptoms come on gradually, as the spine continues to compress. By the time true discomfort appears, the spine may have compressed by nearly one-third. Typical symptoms include:
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Tingling and numbness in the fingers, hands and arms
- Weakness in the upper extremities – patients may have difficulty with grasp
- Coordination issues – frequent falling or trouble walking
- Bowel and bladder problems
- Fine motor skill loss – simple tasks, such as buttoning clothing, become difficult
Many spinal issues mimic myelopathy symptoms, so extensive testing is often necessary for a definite diagnosis. In addition to a physical exam, such tests include:
- Magnetic resonance imaging
- Myelography – this test involves a type of X-ray known as a fluoroscope and the use of a contrasting dye to detect spinal cord problems
- Electromyography – this test measures nerve function to the extremities
Myelopathy is not curable, but it is treatable. Milder cases may improve with the use of braces and physical therapy. The doctor may prescribe medication to ease symptoms and help patients sleep, since the pain often results in sleep disorders.
Many cases of advanced spinal compression require surgery. These procedures relieve pressure on the spinal cord and/or remove or repair the direct cause, such as a herniated disc.
If stenosis is the culprit, the surgeon may perform a laminoplasty, which relieves pressure by creating additional space for the spine and nerves. Other patients may benefit from spinal fusion.
Contact a Surgeon
If you suffer from myelopathy or any back-related issues, contact an experienced surgeon to schedule an examination.