Myelopathy is a spinal condition in which the spinal cord suffers significant compression. Pressure on the spinal cord should not be mistaken for compression on nerve roots as they exit the spinal cord or pass through spinal disc space (that is radiculopathy). Myelopathy is also different than myopathy, a condition in which the nerves within the spinal cord have been damaged.
We might describe myelopathy as a symptom because this spinal problem often results from a primary trigger such as a traumatic injury, disc herniation, degenerative disease, or congenital stenosis. Typically, this type of spinal compression occurs gradually and presents symptoms as aging progresses.
Myelopathy may occur in any part of the spine, including the neck (cervical spine), mid-back (thoracic spine) and low back (lumbar spine). The highest percentage of cases involve the cervical spine and manifest as neck pain. Lumbar myelopathy is the least common type due to the high-point in the lumbar section of the spine at which the spinal cord ends.
Symptoms of Myelopathy Warrant Prompt Evaluation
The spinal cord and column extend from the brain stem to the low back. Through nerves that spread away from the spinal cord, neurotransmissions reach the entire body. Therefore, any spinal condition could affect functions of the neurological system. If any of the following symptoms occur, a prompt medical examination should be sought right away. The sooner appropriate treatment is obtained, the lower the risk of long-term neurological damage.
- Numbness, tingling, or weakness.
- Pain in neck and shoulders, mid-back, low back, arms, or legs.
- Diminished fine motor skills, such as holding a pen.
- The manifestation of abnormal reflexes.
- Diminished or lost urinary or bowel control.
Symptoms such as numbness, tingling, weakness, and pain occur at or below the injured spinal section. For example, cervical compression may lead to symptoms in the shoulders and arms.
A Delicate Path of Treatment
Myelopathy can be a complicated condition because it may coincide with another, such as degenerative disc disease or a herniated spinal disc. Non-surgical treatment options exist. However, the focus of such methods is to slow the progression of neurologic decline. Only surgery can relieve the pressure on the spinal cord to substantially reduce the risk of further damage.