Spinal Infection?
How Do You Know?

Understanding what a spinal infection is, and learning the treatment options, can help you decide what to do when a problem arises. Educating yourself about what is happening in your back allows you to be more involved in the decisions about your care.






"risk factors"

Infections of the spine are rare, but they do occur, more commonly in underdeveloped countries. They may occur following spinal stenosis surgery, or spontaneously without any specific cause. There are a number of risk factors that can make you more susceptible to these infections.

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Anything that suppresses your immune system such as poor nutrition, infection with the HIV virus, or immunosuppressive drugs that are given following organ transplants, can make you more susceptible to infections. These infections may occur in any part of the body, including your spine.

"diabetes, IV drug use, and obesity"

Other things they can weaken your ability to fight off infections include diabetes, IV drug use, and obesity.

Anything that weakens your defenses makes you less resistant to infections.

The most common cause of spinal infections is Staphylococcus aureus, the common bacteria that is found nearly everywhere. Other less common pathogens include fungal infections and tuberculosis.

"the most common types of spinal infections"

An infection can occur in any tissue of your body, but the most common types of spine infections are discitis, osteomyelitis, and an epidural abscess.

Discitis is an inflammatory process that occurs within the intervertebral disc, many times bacterial infection is suspected but never proven.

Vertebral osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone in your spine. Most often this is caused by Staphylococcus aureus, but a bone infection with other bacteria or fungi or mycobacterium is always possible. There may be an infection elsewhere in your body that has traveled to the spine through your blood.

An epidural abscess is an infection with a collection of pus around the dura within the spinal canal. The dura is the tissue that covers the spinal cord and nerve roots inside the spinal canal.

When an epidural abscess epidural abscess develops inside of the spinal canal it can put pressure on the spinal cord or on the nerves. This can cause symptoms of pain or weakness in the lower extremities.

"back pain may not be the first symptom"

When you have an infection in your spine, back pain may not be the first symptom you notice, you may feel ill, and have a fever. Then back pain may develop later.

The most obvious symptom of discitis is back pain with motion of the spine. Any movement or bending of the spine moves the disc causing increased pain. Younger children with discitis may refuse to walk and most people will hold the spine in a rigid extended position.

"focused at the site of the infection"

Vertebral osteomyelitis will also cause back pain, but it will be much more severe, and focused at the site of the infection. Many times the pain of osteomyelitis is so severe people cannot get out of bed.

An epidural abscess will cause moderate back pain. As the abscess grows larger, you may develop numbness and weakness in the lower extremities, from nerve compression.

Symptoms of a spinal infection after spinal stenosis surgery would include ever increasing pain, redness around the wound, fever, and possibly drainage from the wound. 

Learn More:
Spinal Infection Ch 2
Evaluation and Treatment



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