A spinal hemangioma is a benign vascular tumor of the spine. These growths classically appear in the thoracic and lumbar spine, located in the mid to lower back. While the tumor is not dangerous, it can cause pain and discomfort, and treatment may be recommended for these reasons. Spinal surgeons are usually involved in the evaluation and treatment of patients with spinal hemangiomas and patients can access especially good treatment at spinal centers, facilities specializing solely in spinal care.
The causes of spinal hemangiomas are not well understood. Some people appear to have a genetic predisposition, while other people do not, and the tumors can take a variety of forms. Patients can experience symptoms like pain, numbness, and tingling, both at the tumor site and in another areas of the body if the tumor puts pressure on the spinal nerves. To diagnose this condition, a doctor will need to order a medical imaging study of the spine.
Tests like MRIs are commonly used to evaluate patients with suspected spinal problems, and a contrast agent may be used to highlight the spinal structures. For this test, patients lie on a table after being injected with the contrast agent and are wheeled into an MRI machine for imaging. A radiologist can examine the images and check for abnormalities. If any are found, spine specialists can look at the films to collect more information for use in diagnosis and the development of a treatment plan.
Often, the recommendation for this condition is no treatment. If the patient is not experiencing severe symptoms and the tumor appears stable, followups will be recommended periodically to see if it is growing and to check for new symptoms, but otherwise the tumor will be left alone. For patients in pain and in cases where there are concerns about pinching the spinal nerves, treatment may be recommended to address the tumor before it has an opportunity to cause more problems for the patient.
One option is embolization, where the blood supply to the tumor is cut off, arresting the growth and forcing it to shrink over time. A spinal hemangioma can also be removed surgically or treated with radiation therapy. Once the growth is resolved, the patient should experience a significant improvement. If symptoms continue to linger, further medical evaluation is needed to check for signs of permanent damage to the spine. Treatment options for chronic pain caused by a spinal hemangioma can include electrical stimulation of the nerves, as well as pain medications.