When the spinal cord itself is irritated or damaged, this can create a set of symptoms called myelopathy. The term myelopathy is much different than radiculopathy, which is an irritation or damage to a nerve root (nerves that branch off the spinal cord). Myelopathy can be mild or severe, depending on the amount of spinal cord damaged and for how long it has been injured. It can be caused by anything that allows a pressure or compression of the spinal cord such as cervical spinal stenosis, disc herniations, bone spurs, trauma, infection, etc.
Mild symptoms of myelopathy can range from mild numbness into both arms or legs, or mild handwriting or dexterity changes. However, myelopathy can progress to balance problems leading to falls, severe dexterity problems like inability to button a shirt or manipulate small objects, severe numbness and weakness in both arms or legs, or even difficulty with urination or bowel movements.
During a physical examination, a doctor will look for certain unusual reflexes that can be a sign that the spinal cord is being irritated. However, if these reflexes are found on examination, that does not necessarily mean a patient has myelopathy. If myelopathy is suspected, patients should see a medical professional as soon as possible because the longer we wait to treat, the less likely recovery becomes.
This is a problem that affects your spinal cord. It happens when something presses harmfully against it. Your spinal cord is the main nerve pathway between your brain and your body. Pressure on it can cause problems throughout your body.
Anything that reduces the space around your spinal cord can cause myelopathy, even the normal wear and tear of everyday life. It can be caused by an injury to your neck or your back. It can result from diseases such as arthritis, or from a tumor.
Myelopathy has a wide range of symptoms. These depend on where the compression happens along your spinal cord. If it’s in your cervical spine, you may have problems such as pain, numbness, weakness or tingling. You may feel symptoms in your neck, shoulders, arms or hands. You may feel them in your legs or feet. Compression in your lower back can cause pain and cramping in your legs. Myelopathy can cause problems with walking and with balance. It can also cause problems with your bladder and bowels.
Treatment options depend on your symptoms. You may benefit from medications or injections. You may benefit from physical therapy. If these aren’t helpful, you may need surgery to relieve the compression. Your healthcare provider can create a plan that is right for you.