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Spinal Cysts

Spinal cysts are synovial cysts which are an uncommon cause of back pain. They form on the joints or tendons in the spine and can develop as a result of natural degeneration.  Spinal cysts are generally fluid-filled sacs which vary in size and tend to be benign meaning that they are not in themselves harmful or malignant. They can go unnoticed for years as they can go without showing any signs of discomfort or pain. However, they can grow large and show similar symptoms of spinal stenosis as well as place pressure on the sensitive nerve roots exiting the spine.

Causes of Spinal Cysts

When the facet joint in the spine breaks down it can produce more fluid than a healthy joint. This fluid helps the damaged joint as it provides extra lubrication and helps in easing the joint’s movement. However, in response to the extra fluid, a cyst may develop as the fluid builds up and gets caught in the synovial lining of the joint.

The fluid in the cyst is not harmful as it is not under pressure and does not cause any issues unless it begins pushing on the spine. The spinal cysts occur most commonly in older adults of about 50 years and above as they are as a result of deterioration of the spine.

Symptoms of Spinal Cysts

Spinal cysts that cause back pain share characteristics which are similar to spinal stenosis and the symptoms include:

  • Backache
  • Tingling and numbness
  • Weakness or pain in the arms and legs
  • Radicular pain which results from a pinched nerve on a specific side of the body
  • Pain that worsens by sitting or standing or leaning in a certain direction

The symptoms however tend to vary depending on the size and location of the spinal cysts.

Diagnosis of Spinal Cysts

Spinal cysts can be diagnosed through an MRI as this allows the specialist to view the inside of the spinal column and locate any cysts or anything else that might be causing the symptoms. X-ray or Ultrasound can also be used to detect the cysts in the spine.

If a spinal cyst is found by the specialist, then he or she may conduct additional scans to check the spinal column or spine for damage before embarking on the appropriate treatment.

Treatment of Spinal Cysts

Treatment options for spinal cysts include:

  • Pain medication: Mild over-the-counter pain medication can be used to minimize the pain caused a cyst.
  • Observation: Your doctor may suggest leaving the cyst alone if it does not cause any problems. If the cysts begin causing issues, you can revisit your doctor.
  • Injections: There are two types of injections that are used to treat spinal cysts.
    • A facet injection which drains the fluid from the cyst through the facet joint; and to reduce the swelling and inflammation, a steroid is inserted following the removal of the fluid.
    • The other type of injection is an epidural steroid injection which is used to treat pain caused by a synovial cyst. This injection does not remove the cyst but rather reduces the pain caused by the said cyst.

If the above treatments do not work or are not the best possible options for the patient, the specialist doctor may recommend surgery to remove the cyst.

Next Steps

At King’s College Hospital Dubai, we focus on offering an exemplary service, from initial consultation through to final diagnosis and treatment and beyond. Our multidisciplinary team of expert doctors, nurses, physio therapists are here to offer tailored management and treatment of your condition, and to answer any questions that you might have throughout your time with us. Whatever you need us for, we’re only a phone-call away.

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