Myelomalacia of the spine is a medical condition that occurs when the spinal cord begins to soften. This softening can lead to a loss of spinal cord volume, which can cause problems throughout your body. Today, we take a closer look at why the condition develops, what problems are associated with it, and how myelomalacia is treated.
Loss of spinal cord volume can occur for a number of different physical reasons, like falls, athletic trauma or car accidents, but they all result in a similar pathology in the body – a reduction in the blood supply to the spinal cord. If the injury site causes an insufficient amount of blood to be supplied to the spinal cord, it will lose volume and soften. Trauma isn’t the only cause of insufficient blood supply to the spinal cord, as it can also occur in older patients due to natural degeneration caused by the aging process.
When the spinal cord doesn’t get enough blood supply and the spinal cord begins to soften, it can lead to a number of issues inside the body, including:
As you can see, many of the above symptoms are very serious in nature, so spine specialists like to correct the problem as quickly as possible if myelomalacia is detected.
The onset of myelomalacia is typically diagnosed with the assistance of an MRI or another imaging device that can display the loss of spinal cord volume. Once it is confirmed, the doctor will walk you through your surgical options.
The two goals of a myelomalacia procedure are to clear the blockage or compression that is inhibiting normal blood flow, and to stabilize the area so that the problem doesn’t return in the future. Exact details of your surgery, including which discs will be operated on or what type of implants will be used will be determined on a case-by-case basis, and your doctor will walk you through your specific procedure in the days leading up to your operation.
Here’s a basic overview of the operation that would be performed for a patient whose shifted spinal disc had led to spinal cord softening due to a lack of blood flow:
The patient would be put under general anesthesia and is asleep for the procedure. In most cases, a minimally invasive technique can be used, which cuts down on recovery time and the risk of surgical complications. During a minimally invasive myelomalacia procedure, the surgeon will make a small incision on your back in order to access the damaged site. An endoscopic or another type of camera device is inserted to allow the surgeon to visualize the surgical site on a screen in the operating room. The surgeon will carefully remove the disc or bone that is cutting off blood flow to the spinal cord. Once removed, the surgeon may insert an implant or bone graft to stabilize the area and prevent the disc from compressing the area again in the future.
Patients can typically leave the surgery center on the same day. Your doctor will walk you through your specific care guidelines after your operation, but in general you should try to stay mobile in the days after your operation. That being said, overdoing it and jumping back into full activities can cause problems with the surgery, and limited activities are typically advised for 4-6 weeks.
For more information about the operation, or to discuss any back pain concerns with Dr. Chang, reach out to his office today.