Spinal Infections

Spinal infections are rare, but, when they happen, they can be destructive if not treated promptly and properly. Infections can occur in the spinal bones or vertebrae in the soft discs that cushion each vertebra or in the soft tissue around the spine. At Mount Sinai, we address any spinal infections promptly and carefully.

Spinal Infection Symptoms

Different types of spinal infections produce different symptoms. Here are some of the primary spinal infections and symptoms:

  • Cervical spine infections cause neck pain, stiffness, and decreased range of motion.
  • Intervertebral disc space infections lead to severe back pain, fever, chills, weight loss, muscle spasms, and painful or difficult urination.
  • Spinal canal infections often produce severe back pain, tenderness, and fever.
  • Adjacent soft-tissue infections may trigger abdominal pain, pain in your upper abdomen or back (flank pain), or pain radiating to the hip and thigh.

Potential Causes of Spinal Infections

Bacterial or fungal infections can spread to the disc from elsewhere in the body, causing urinary tract infections or other infections.

Once the infection has passed through and out of the rest of your body, the infection often remains in the disc and may cause it to weaken, decay, and collapse. When this happens, the disc pushes against the spinal nerves, causing pain. If not treated, the infection can spread to the vertebrae, weakening the bones and causing them to collapse and press against the spinal cord, which can affect many body functions. If the infection is still not treated, the deformed vertebrae can fuse, press against the nerve roots, and lead to continuous pain.

Diagnosing Spinal Infections

It can take a month or more to diagnose a spinal infection. Diagnostic tests include bloodwork to identify whether an infection is present and imaging tests to pinpoint the exact location and extent of the issue. Imaging tests typically include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography (CT) scan.

Spinal Infection Treatment

We treat spinal infections with both surgical and non-surgical techniques.

Non-surgical treatments include long-term intravenous antibiotic or antifungal therapy, often involving extended hospitalization.

If non-surgical techniques do not resolve the issue, physicians may perform surgery to clean and remove the affected tissue, enable the infected area to maintain adequate blood flow, maintain or restore spinal stability, and limit neurological impairment.