A cyst is a fluid-filled sac that can develop in the spine as a result of degeneration and can lead to spinal stenosis or other painful, serious conditions.
There are several different types of cysts that may develop within the spinal cord, although synovial cysts are most common. Synovial cysts develop within the facet joints as cartilage wears away and excess fluid is produced within the joint. The excess fluid is retained within synovium of the joint and forms a cyst. Other types of spinal cysts include arachnoid cysts, Tarlov cysts, extramedullary cysts and many more.
Patients with a spinal cyst may not experience any symptoms if the cyst remains small and stable. As the cyst progresses and becomes more severe, it may cause pain in the back that travels down the legs as well, and can also lead to spinal stenosis, which may cause pain, cramping and numbness.
Spinal cysts tend to cause pain in certain positions, such as while standing or remaining still for prolonged periods of time. Many patients can reduce the severity of their symptoms by frequently changing positions or by adjusting their activities to remain in a seated position more often.
Two years ago, ice skating pro Jayne Torvill was forced to hide agonizing back pain when she took part in ITVs Dancing On Ice with her skating partner Christopher Dean.She was later diagnosed with a spinal cyst and eventually the Olympic gold medallist needed surgery to remove it.
Cysts that do not cause symptoms and do not seem to be growing at a rapid rate may not require any treatment other than regular monitoring of the condition. Patients that experience pain from their cyst may benefit from facet or epidural steroid injections that decrease inflammation and temporarily relieve pain. In some cases, the cyst may be joined through the same needle used for facet injections. Jayne tried the epidural steroid injections first and she found some relieve but the pain came back so surgery was advised.
Cysts that cause significant pain and are growing in size may require surgery to effectively remove the cyst and prevent serious complications from occurring. Surgery to treat spinal cysts most commonly involves decompression with or without spine fusion surgery. This involves removing the cyst and then fusing the joint together to prevent the cyst from regenerating. Surgery is usually reserved for patients who wish to participate in physical activities with less pain.