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10th February, 20212 min read

Spinal Cord Compression

Medical reviewer:Dr Ann Nainan
Author:Dr Lauretta Ihonor
Last reviewed: 07/01/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

Spinal cord compression happens when too much pressure is put on the spinal cord – the column of nerve tissue that runs down the middle of your spine. This pressure may be caused by certain injuries or conditions that cause bone, a tumour, a ruptured vertebral disc, or a collection of pus (abscess) or blood (haematoma) to press on the cord.

What are the symptoms of spinal cord compression?

Spinal cord compression can happen suddenly or gradually. When it happens suddenly, it can cause symptoms that appear within minutes, hours, days or weeks. When it happens gradually, its symptoms may get worse over months or years.

The symptoms of spinal cord compression can vary depending on how much of the cord is affected. They include:

  • back or neck pain
  • muscle weakness
  • tingling, numbness and other changes in sensation in parts of your body
  • difficulty controlling when you pee or poo
  • not being able to pee at all or empty your bladder fully when you pee
  • difficulty having or keeping an erection

Spinal cord compression is an emergency condition that needs immediate medical attention. Go to the emergency department or call an ambulance if you think you have it.

How is spinal cord compression treated?

You’ll usually need imaging scans, such as an MRI or CT scan, to diagnose spinal cord compression.

The treatment you’ll need will typically depend on the cause of the compression and may include:

  • surgery
  • steroids given through a vein
  • a procedure to drain abscesses or collections of blood (haematoma)
  • radiotherapy - for tumours
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