What Are the Common Causes of Spinal Swelling?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2018
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Spinal swelling is usually the result of trauma or disease processes in the spine that cause fluid to start building up. This can be dangerous for the patient, as the swelling may limit the flow of blood through the spinal cord and could lead to nerve injuries. After any kind of spinal injury, a patient may receive a thorough medical evaluation to check for swelling. If a patient starts to develop neurological symptoms while in recovery from an injury, he should report them to a medical professional and get advice on how to proceed.

Trauma to the spine is a common reason for spinal swelling. This can include wrenching injuries from falls or car accidents as well as direct blows to the spine, including cuts. In response to the trauma, lymph usually floods the area and the patient can also develop a hematoma, a pocket of blood that will lie inside the spinal canal and put pressure on the spinal cord.

Another potential cause is disease. A spinal abscess, usually a complication of a spinal puncture procedure, can cause swelling by allowing pus and other fluids to build up. Patients with arthritis and other degenerative bone diseases may be prone to fluid buildups and can develop very rapid swelling because of their underlying inflammation if their spines become irritated. Tumors are another potential cause, as are ruptured or compressed discs.


A healthcare professional can perform an imaging study to look for signs of swelling and isolate its location. Neurologists usually also perform a physical examination to determine whether the patient has symptoms of injuries to the spinal cord. This test can act as a baseline in the event that the patient grows worse. The medical professional can flip through the patient's records to see how he performed on neurological function tests earlier.

Treatments for spinal swelling depend on the underlying cause. Surgery may be necessary to correct an immediate problem or relieve pressure on the spine. Medications can reduce swelling, as can resting and icing the spine to prevent further inflammation and injury. If a patient starts to experience neurological complications, like incontinence or difficulty breathing, he needs supportive care. This will keep the patient stable while he receives treatment for the swelling. If the injury appears permanent in nature, the patient may transition to physical therapy to develop skills he can use to compensate for the changes to his abilities.


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