Your spine is rigid enough to keep you upright, flexible enough to enable bending and twisting, and so intricately designed that it can protect your central nervous system as countless nerves, the spinal cord, and vessels run in and out of the spinal column.
Given all your spine does, imagine what would happen if something compressed the spinal cord. That can cause myelopathy.
Myelopathy symptoms overlap those of other neurologic conditions, so getting an accurate diagnosis is critical before starting treatment. That’s why you need an experienced spinal specialist, like Dr. Patrick McNulty at McNulty Spine.
As an award-winning, double-board-certified orthopedic surgeon, Dr. McNulty has more than three decades of experience diagnosing and treating complicated spinal disorders. If you’re experiencing symptoms of myelopathy, get in touch with our team right away to ensure your spine is in the right hands.
Your spine is a column made up of 24 vertebrae that stack upon one another. For medical purposes, we divide your spine into three distinct sections: cervical (neck), thoracic (middle), and lumbar (lower back). Discs, facet joints, ligaments, and muscles enable you to move, bend, and twist.
All these parts work together to form a long, hollow tube called your spinal canal, which houses your spinal cord and your nerve roots. This is the hub of your central nervous system, which starts at your brain stem. Like a busy freeway, your spinal canal provides “on ramps” and “exits” for your nerves to connect to the spinal cord.
If any condition — such as myelopathy — disrupts this intricate, complex system, it can cause nerve-related symptoms throughout your body.
Facts about myelopathy
Simply put, myelopathy can be caused by a compressed spinal cord. What’s not so simple is how it happens and the problems it causes.
Myelopathy can occur anywhere along your spinal cord, but the most common place is in the cervical area.
Pressure on your spinal cord can stem from several different sources. As you age and your spine gradually degenerates, the structures degrade and compress the spinal cord. Inflammation, arthritis, and deformities present at birth can also compress the space. Here are few other potential culprits:
- Herniated discs
- Bone spurs
- Spinal stenosis
- Spinal tumors
- Traumatic injury
Whether myelopathy stems from an acute incident or results from years of degradation, the symptoms can make it difficult to carry out everyday tasks.
Pressure on your spinal cord typically also causes pressure on the nerves, a condition called radiculopathy. Here’s what myelopathy feels like:
- Pain in your neck and/or arm
- Pain in your lower back and/or leg
- Unusual or involuntary reflexes
- Numbness, weakness, pins-and-needles sensation
- Reduced fine motor skills
- Difficulty walking
- You may have no pain
You won’t necessarily experience all these symptoms if you have myelopathy — the type of symptoms depends on the location and severity of the spinal cord compression.
In some cases, myelopathy can affect your coordination and balance as well as your bladder and bowel control.
How we treat myelopathy
The goal of myelopathy treatment is to remove the pressure from your spinal cord, so we start with identifying the problem.
If your symptoms extremely mild or subtle, Dr. McNulty may recommend physical therapy and observation with close follow up, but this does not typically fix the problem. The vast majority of myelopathy is progressive, which means you’ll eventually need a surgical solution. In general, it is better to do it sooner than later.
If you have a bone spur or herniated disc pushing on your spinal cord, Dr. McNulty can surgically remove them to relieve the pressure.
If you have spinal stenosis, he may perform laminoplasty to create more space in your spinal cord, or he may recommend decompression and spinal fusion to stop the painful movement in that area.
Whenever possible, Dr. McNulty uses minimally invasive surgical techniques to lower your risk of infection, speed up your recovery, and leave you with only a few tiny incision scars.
Whether you have symptoms of myelopathy or any other spinal condition, come see Dr. McNulty, one of the nation’s top spinal surgeons, for a thorough examination, accurate diagnosis, and state-of-the-art treatment. Call or book online.