Cysts, which are fluid-filled sacs, can develop near the spine, leading to various painful and potentially serious conditions. There are several different types of cysts that can form within the spinal cord.
Most cysts develop in the sacral area around the tailbone. Patients with spinal cysts may experience no symptoms if the cyst is small and stable. Symptoms typically only occur in cases where the cyst grows or causes pressure on surrounding nerves. Common signs of a spinal cyst are:
- Leg weakness
- Pain, especially when the person stays in the same position for a period
- Loss of control over the bowels or bladder
Symptoms of Spinal Cysts
A patient with a spinal cyst may not have any symptoms if the cyst remains small and stable. If, however, the cyst grows to a significant size and/or presses on nearby nerves, it can cause symptoms that include pain, leg weakness, and loss of bladder or bowel control. Spinal cysts tend to cause pain when a person is still for long periods of time or assumes certain positions. Many patients can reduce the severity of symptoms by frequently changing positions and moving around more often.
Spinal Cyst Causes
Cysts develop for several reasons. Some people have cysts from birth and others are caused by aging and other degenerative processes. In the case of synovial cysts, the condition may develop because of the body producing more fluid in the joint to compensate for degeneration.
Spinal Cyst Treatment Options
Spinal cysts that are not growing quickly or causing symptoms may not require treatment. We will monitor the cyst for any changes in development. Some patients with mild symptoms find that changing positions and moving around more often helps, but the condition may still require treatment. Steroid injections to reduce inflammation and discomfort may be the first course of treatment. If the spinal cyst is causing moderate to severe pain or growing quickly, surgery may be recommended. The goal of the procedure is to drain the cyst or remove it. Spinal fusion surgery may be recommended in cases where there is a likelihood of new cysts developing within the spinal cord.
If the cyst is drained or removed, limiting your activities for several weeks helps the area heal faster. You can then slowly increase your activity level. You may have some pain for up to one week.
If your spinal cyst procedure also includes fusion of the joint, recovery could take several months. You will need to avoid any movements that may interfere with healing, such as lifting heavy objects, bending over and twisting your body. We may provide you with a back brace to keep the spine stabilized during recovery.
Physical therapy is beneficial for some patients who undergo fusion surgery for spinal cysts. The program may begin approximately six weeks after the surgery, and you may need to continue physical therapy for a few months.
Risks of Spinal Fusion Surgery
Treating spinal cysts by fusing the joints may have some risks. The surgery changes the way that your spine works, and more pressure may be placed on the joints that were not fused during the surgery. This may lead to joint degeneration and other problems. Other complications from spinal fusion surgery do arise in a small percentage of patients. The issues typically relate to improper healing of the joints. Patients who smoke are at greater risk for developing complications from spinal cyst fusion surgery.
Schedule a Consultation
A spinal cyst may not be problematic if it remains small and stable, but cysts that interfere with the surrounding nerves can cause issues and should be evaluated for treatment. To learn more about spinal cysts, contact us to schedule a consultation with Dr. Federico P. Girardi. You can also contact our New York City office directly at (212) 606-1559.