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Spinal Infections - Causes & Risks

Understanding the Causes and Risks of Spinal Infections

While all spinal conditions have risks, infections can pose the greatest danger. Infections involving the spine should not be underestimated, which is why if you have any of the symptoms outlined below, you should contact Key Clinics right away.

Types of Spinal Infections

There are different types of spinal infections based on the location. These include the intervertebral disc space, the vertebral column and the spinal canal, as well as surrounding soft tissue.

  • Intervertebral Disc Space – An infection of the spinal disc space can be due to a blood borne bacteria seeding the disc space or result from direct spread from a surgical procedure, spine instrumentation or trauma.
  • Spinal Canal – An epidural abscess develops and expands in the space between the bony spinal canal and the dura (water balloon sac) that encloses the nerve roots and spinal cord.
  • Vertebral Column – Of all the infections that attack the vertebrae, this is the most common. Formally called vertebral osteomyelitis, like discitis, this infection develops due to a blood borne bacteria seeding the vertebral body or from direct spread from a surgical procedure, spine instrumentation, trauma or surrounding tissue.  Bacterial or fungal organisms can cause this infection. Patients with diabetes or immune system compromise are more susceptible to this condition.

Spinal Infection Symptoms

The exact symptoms depend on the type of spinal infection.

  • Intervertebral Disc Space Infection – At first, patients have mild or few symptoms. Over time, they begin to experience a significant amount of lower back pain.  A fever is not typically seen. Patients would notice progressive difficulty moving, bending, flexing or performing normal activities of daily living.
  • Post-Surgical Infection – If an infection of the spine follows surgery, pain most often begins two to four weeks afterward. Most people can alleviate the pain with bedrest and by staying immobile, but any movement of the body would cause a lot of pain. For this type of infection, early diagnosis and treatment are imperative. Post-surgery infections also can come with tenderness, redness, and inflammation at the site of the incision, along with drainage of the wound.
  • Vertebral Osteomyelitis Infection – With this infection, people can struggle with severe pain, as well as chills, fever, muscle spasms, painful urination, and weight loss.
  • Spinal Canal Infection – Symptoms include severe pain, local tenderness, and a fever.  This type of spinal infection also involves radiating pain down the arms or legs caused by nerve root compression, dysfunction of the bowel and/or bladder, muscle weakness, and even paralysis. If the surrounding spinal soft tissue is infected, an individual may have abdominal or flank pain and a limp.

Risk Factors and Causes of Spinal Infections

Most often, infections of the spine occur in people with compromised immune systems in connection with the following risks:

  • Aging
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes Mellitus
  • HIV
  • Intravenous Drug Use
  • Malnutrition
  • Organ Transplantation
  • Surgery

When an infection of the spine develops following surgery, the common causes include a significant amount blood loss, a long operation, the revision of or multiple surgeries at the same area of the body, the use of surgical instrumentation, and a urologic procedure. Fortunately, the occurrence of post-surgery infections is very low, especially when performed by a board-certified neurosurgeon, like Dr. Siegal at Key Clinics.

An infection in the spine usually starts with a bacterial or fungal infection that has developed in a different part of the body and then travels through the bloodstream to the cervical, thoracic, or lumbar region. The lower back (lumbar region) is where most spine infections settle. The bacterium Staphylococcus aureus is the primary cause of spinal infections, followed by Escherichia coli.

Seeking Medical Care

Any infection of the spine requires immediate medical care. At Key Clinics, Dr. Siegal and his medical staff offer superior diagnostic testing and treatment of spinal infections. If you have an infection of the spine and need surgery, he would recommend a surgery that cleans and removes any infected tissue, improves the blood flow to the infected area, restores spinal stability, and limits any neurological impairment. Call us or schedule an appointment online today.