Anyone can get a spinal infection. Individuals can have an infection:
These types of infections can happen anywhere along the spine, from the atlas at the base of the neck to the coccyx all the way to the lowest part of the back. Individuals should expect unpredictability if dealing with a spinal infection. During testing, lab results could be misleading or inaccurate. What can happen is white blood cell counts are normal, X-rays might not show any abnormalities, and sensitive diagnostic tests like a CT or MRI scan might not show positivity of infection for a week or more. What to know about spinal infections.
They are classified according to the type of tissue they infect. The most common include:
This is a common infection type. Bacteria most often cause the cause. It can develop after trauma to the spine, post-surgery, or bacterial infections located in other body parts that travel via the blood to the vertebra. Symptoms include:
This type of infection develops between the intervertebral discs. It is also rare but is more common in children and adolescents, but it can still happen in adults. Discitis can be potentially deadly, despite advanced treatment. The most common causes are bacterial and viral infections.
Individuals with discitis can present with minimal symptoms when the infection initializes, but it does worsen and can cause:
Treatment options include:
This is an infection that can develop in the spaces between the bones of the spine, the skull, or soft tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord. This is a medical emergency that needs to be addressed immediately. The infection is often caused by a bacterial or fungal infection in or around the affected area. This is commonly a Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. An abscess can sometimes develop from an infection in another part of the body. This could be a urinary tract infection that spreads out to the spine. Symptoms include:
Treatment consists of intravenous antibiotics to combat the infection that caused the abscess. In some cases, if there is difficulty moving around or experiencing numbness, surgery is required to drain the abscess or completely remove it.
Spine infections can affect anyone. However, some individuals with certain chronic health problems have an increased risk. They include those with:
Risk factors include:
Surgical risk factors:
Early diagnosis can be the difference in treating the infection before damage to the spine develops or before the damage worsens. They are diagnosed through a variety of lab and imaging tests. These include:
These infections are rare but serious, and early treatment is recommended for optimal outcomes. Early diagnosis in the early stages can be successfully treated with antibiotics, rest, and spinal braces. Doctors, spine specialists, chiropractors, and physical therapists will work with the individual to provide a thorough diagnosis, personalized treatment plan, and long-term outcomes.
Practicing mindfulness can help identify triggers of negative thoughts and behavior. Mindfulness is unique to each individual. Sitting quietly and meditating for 20 minutes is not for everyone. Instead, try a five-minute guided meditation, writing, or music listening. The best time to meditate is in the morning after waking up. This helps set the day’s objectives, what’s important and what can wait in clear fashion. Mindfulness practice has been shown to reduce stress and feelings of anxiety.
Journaling is a great way to find out about yourself. It can be done with a pencil/pen and paper on a computer, tablet, or phone. Take a few minutes to write some ideas, feelings, and emotions that can help put things in perspective. Examples could be, writing something that makes you happy/proud, something that you want to improve, and a goal. There is also mindful listening that can help reduce stress by focusing attention. Instead of turning on the news or checking email first thing, listen to a favorite podcast or music. The same applies to over-phone use. During some downtime, instead of scrolling through social media, etc., take a breath and listen to your mind and self.
American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Spinal Infections. www.aans.org/Patient%20Information/Conditions%20and%20Treatments/Spinal%20Infections.aspx. Published May 2016. Accessed December 29, 2016.
Stat Pearls. (2021). Diskitis. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541047/
Stat Pearls. (2021). Spinal Epidural Abscess. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441890/
Frontiers in Medicine. (2014). Surgical site infections following spine surgery: eliminating the controversies in the diagnosis. www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmed.2014.00007/full
Microorganisms. (2020). Spinal Infections: An Update. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7232330/
The Spine Journal. (2021.) “Long-term quality of life outcome after spondylodiscitis treatment.” www.thespinejournalonline.com/article/S1529-9430(21)00783-X/fulltext
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The information herein on "Infections of The Spine: Symptoms, Risks, Diagnosis" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional, or licensed physician, and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make your own healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.
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