Understanding Spinal Infections

Back pain is extremely common. In fact, it is likely to affect about 80% of the population at some point in their lives. Sometimes the worst types of pain indicate a muscular or skeletal issue that can be treated by a chiropractor, primary care physician, or an orthopedist. While most pain issues are related to muscular or skeletal problems, some more serious medical problems can arise as well. An infection of the spine is one of them. While the condition is somewhat rare, it is something that should be considered when you notice a sudden onset of back pain. 

What Is Osteomyelitis?

Osteomyelitis is a spinal infection that can involve a great deal of structures along the spine. In particular, the issue can involve the vertebrae, the spinal discs, the spaces between the discs, the spinal canal, and the soft tissues around the spine. While infections can be caused by viruses and fungi, the most common infection is one created by bacteria. Bacteria can enter into and around the spinal column when a procedure is completed. For example, microorganisms can enter the body when a lumbar puncture is completed. 

While bacteria can enter the body through an external opening, the vast majority of microorganisms will reach the spine through the blood. When bacteria deposit near and around the spinal vertebrae and then multiply, and infection starts. Typically, the bacteria enter the discs that sit between the vertebrae and these discs inflame and break down. As the infection spreads, the spaces between the vertebrae start to close and degrade and the bones themselves can become infected. Bone infections are particularly serious because the bones can weaken and collapse under the pressure of the body.

Fortunately, collapsing issues and fractures are associated with long term infection issues. You will notice symptoms long before the problem advances to this degree. 

What Are the Symptoms Of The Infection?

If you develop a spinal infection, you will notice some fairly significant symptoms. However, you should understand that infections develop quite slowly, so you may notice a progression in the onset of symptoms and their severity over the course of many months. This is something that may cause you to overlook the issue and to avoid treatment. Also, since many of the symptoms are similar to ones experienced when a person develops a subacute or a chronic back pain issue, the discomfort is often overlooked. 

Some of these symptoms include localized and general back pain. Both throbbing and aching pains are common and the discomfort may worsen when you move. The pain will often subside with NSAID pain relievers as well as rest. However, as the infection progresses, back pain will become severe and you may be unable to move. Also, you may notice chills at night and fever, like with other types of infections. 

If the infection problem is not addressed in a timely manner, then there is a chance that more serious symptoms that include numbness, tingling, and shooting pain can develop.

How Is The Infection Treated?

Spinal infections can typically be found through x-ray imaging and the completion of bloodwork. Once the infection is located, it can be treated. Strong antibiotics that are administered through an IV are often required. You may need to wear a brace for some time and rest your back. In some cases, antibiotics will be unable to reach the infection. This happens if the reduced blood flow keeps the medicine from reaching the area. A surgical procedure must then be completed to remove the infected tissues.

Surgeries may also be completed in cases where the spinal cord is compressed due to the infection. 

If you feel any sort of back pain and find that the discomfort lingers, then you should seek out assistance with a medical professional as soon as possible. The issue may be more serious than you think and treatment may be needed.