Spinal Cysts

What are spinal cysts?

Ganglion and synovial cysts are benign lumps caused by a buildup of fluid in a tendon sheath or joint capsule. They most commonly show up on the top of the wrist, but may also affect the feet or the spine.

What are the symptoms of spinal cysts?

Depending on the size and location of the cyst, symptoms may be similar to those of spinal stenosis, including:

  • backache
  • radicular (“pinched nerve”) pain on one or both sides
  • neurogenic claudication (pain or weakness due to compressed nerves)
  • numbness
  • difficulty moving
  • diminished reflexes
  • paralysis (very rare)
  • change in bowel or bladder function

What are the risk factors for spinal cysts?

Spinal cysts are more common in people over the age of 50. The cause of spinal cysts is unknown, but they may result from degeneration and instability of the spine in areas subjected to repetitive motion, particularly the joints in the lumbar region. Patients with spinal cysts may have other degenerative conditions of the spine, such as arthritis and disk disease.

Spinal Cyst Diagnosis

For a patient reporting symptoms, a doctor may recommend an X-ray to rule out other problems, but the cyst is usually found through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The cyst will clearly appear as a bubble-like growth near a facet joint, which is a connection between vertebrae of the spine.

Knowing the cyst’s size and position will help the doctor develop a treatment plan.

Spinal Cyst Treatment

Conservative treatment may include rest, anti-inflammatory medications, painkillers, steroid injections and drainage. Though these approaches may temporarily relieve the symptoms, cysts may reform or refill, resulting in further discomfort.

Surgery may be recommended for persistent cysts that cause pain and impaired movement. There are several surgical approaches to removing a cyst and preventing recurrence. Patients should discuss the options with their spine surgeon for guidance on what’s most likely to provide lasting relief.

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