Patient Education

To help you understand and navigate through your orthopedic health decisions, we have created a patient education section. Please select from one of the categories below to learn more about your condition or procedure.
Myelopathy

Myelopathy is a condition characterized by the compression or damage to the spinal cord, leading to neurological deficits. It can occur in various regions of the spine: cervical (neck), thoracic (mid-back), or lumbar (lower back). The most common type is cervical myelopathy, due to the high mobility and vulnerability of the neck area.

Common Symptoms

Symptoms of myelopathy can vary depending on the location and severity of the spinal cord compression, but generally include:

  • Neck or Back Pain: Chronic pain in the affected area of the spine.
  • Numbness and Tingling: In the arms, hands, legs, or feet.
  • Weakness: Muscle weakness in the limbs, leading to difficulty with coordination and fine motor skills.
  • Gait Abnormalities: Unsteady walking or difficulty maintaining balance.
  • Loss of Dexterity: Difficulty with tasks requiring fine motor skills, such as buttoning a shirt.
  • Bladder and Bowel Dysfunction: In severe cases, loss of control over bladder and bowel function.
  • Hyperreflexia: Exaggerated reflexes in the limbs.

Cause & Anatomy

  • Degenerative Disc Disease: Wear and tear on spinal discs leading to herniation or bulging.
  • Spinal Stenosis: Narrowing of the spinal canal compressing the spinal cord.
  • Herniated Disc: Disc material pressing on the spinal cord.
  • Trauma: Injuries such as fractures or dislocations.
  • Tumors: Abnormal growths pressing on the spinal cord.
  • Infections: Infections affecting the spine (e.g., epidural abscess).
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: Inflammatory arthritis causing spinal cord compression.
  • Congenital Conditions: Birth defects such as Chiari malformation or tethered cord syndrome.

Diagnosis

  • Detailed history and physical exam to assess symptoms and neurological function.
  • MRI: Preferred method to visualize spinal cord compression and soft tissue structures.
  • CT Scan: Detailed images of the spinal bones.
  • X-rays: To identify bone abnormalities and alignment issues.
  • Assess electrical activity of muscles and nerve function.
  • An X-ray or CT scan after injecting contrast dye into the spinal canal to better visualize the spinal cord and nerves.

Non-Surgical Treatment

Medications:

  • Pain Relievers: NSAIDs, acetaminophen, or opioids for pain management.
  • Muscle Relaxants: To reduce muscle spasms.
  • Steroids: To reduce inflammation and swelling.

Physical Therapy:

  • Exercises to improve strength, flexibility, and balance.
  • Techniques to enhance posture and ergonomics.

Bracing:

  • Cervical collars or braces to stabilize the spine and limit movement.

Surgical Treatments

Surgery may be necessary if conservative treatments fail or if there is severe compression causing significant neurological deficits.

Decompression Surgery:

  • Laminectomy: Removal of part of the vertebra (lamina) to create more space for the spinal cord.
  • Discectomy: Removal of a herniated disc pressing on the spinal cord.
  • Foraminotomy: Enlargement of the foramina to relieve nerve compression.

Spinal Fusion:

  • Fusing two or more vertebrae to stabilize the spine after decompression.

Corpectomy:

  • Removal of part of the vertebral body and adjacent discs to decompress the spinal cord, followed by spinal fusion.

Recovery & Rehabilitation

Immediate Postoperative Care

  • Hospital Stay: Duration depends on the type of surgery and individual recovery.
  • Pain Management: Medications to control postoperative pain.
  • Activity Restrictions: Limited movement initially, with gradual increase as healing progresses.
  • Physical Therapy: Early mobilization and exercises to restore function and strength.

Long-Term Rehabilitation

  • Physical Therapy: Structured program to improve flexibility, strength, and coordination.
  • Occupational Therapy: Techniques to assist with daily activities and improve fine motor skills.
  • Activity Modification: Gradual return to normal activities, avoiding heavy lifting and high-impact activities initially.
  • Follow-Up Care: Regular visits to monitor healing and progress.

Risks & Complications

  • Infection: Risk of infection at the surgical site.
  • Bleeding: Risk of excessive bleeding during or after surgery.
  • Nerve Damage: Potential for nerve injury during surgery.
  • Non-Union or Malunion: Failure of the bones to heal properly if spinal fusion is performed.
  • Implant Failure: Risk of metal hardware loosening or breaking if used.
  • Persistent Symptoms: Symptoms may persist despite surgery.
  • Recurrence of Symptoms: Symptoms may recur if the underlying condition progresses.

Benefits of Treatment

  • Pain Relief: Significant reduction in pain and discomfort.
  • Improved Mobility: Enhanced ability to perform daily activities.
  • Increased Functionality: Improved overall spinal function and quality of life.
  • Prevention of Further Damage: Stabilizing the spine to prevent further injury or deterioration.

FAQ’s

What are the common causes of myelopathy?
Myelopathy can be caused by degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, herniated discs, trauma, tumors, infections, rheumatoid arthritis, and congenital conditions.

How is myelopathy diagnosed?
Myelopathy is diagnosed through medical history, physical examination, and imaging tests such as MRI, CT scans, and X-rays. Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies may also be used.

Can myelopathy be treated without surgery?
Yes, conservative treatments such as medications, physical therapy, and bracing can be effective for managing symptoms. Surgery is considered if conservative treatments fail or if there is significant spinal cord compression.

What are the risks of spinal decompression surgery for myelopathy?
Risks include infection, bleeding, nerve damage, non-union or malunion of bones, implant failure, persistent symptoms, and recurrence of symptoms.

How long does it take to recover from spinal decompression surgery?
Recovery time varies based on the type of surgery and individual factors. Initial recovery may take several weeks, with full recovery potentially taking several months.

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