Infections of the Spine

Infections of the Spine Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

An infection of the vertebral body in the spine is known as vertebral osteomyelitis. Vertebral osteomyelitis may rarely cause back pain in young and healthy adults. Most of the time, the infection is spread by a vascular route to the vertebral body.

The veins in the Batson’s plexus or lower spine drain the pelvis and create an entryway that allows bacteria to enter the spine. Due to this, infections of the spine that occur following a urologic procedure such as cystoscopy are prevalent.

What are the Symptoms of Infrections of the Spine?

Back pain is the most common symptom in patients with vertebral osteomyelitis or infections of the spine. Other symptoms such as unexpected weight loss, shakes, chills, or a fever, and swelling and redness around the affected area are also possible. Learn more about back pain »

Symptoms of vertebral osteomyelitis vary depending on the patient, the area of the infection, and its condition. One individual may experience a fever and swelling while someone else does not experience either symptom.

What Causes Infections of the Spine?

Individuals who may develop osteomyelitis or infections of the spine are typically elderly adults, drug users, or individuals with weak immune systems. Immune systems that are weak or compromised can be caused by the long-term use of steroids to treat conditions such as arthritis or poor nutrition. Compromised immune systems are also found in organ transplant and cancer patients as well as those with Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus, and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

How are Infections of the Spine Treated?

Treating infections of the spine or vertebral osteomyelitis does not typically require surgery. An intravenous antibiotic treatment is the main way to relieve this condition. However, sometimes surgery may be required in order to ease the pressure on the spinal nerves, stabilize the spine, and clean out the infected area.

  • Intravenous Antibiotic. Almost every case of vertebral osteomyelitis is caused by Staphyloccocus Aurerus which is usually extremely sensitive to antibiotics. Patients with vertebral osteomyelitis may see improvement after four weeks of the intravenous antibiotics treatment and two weeks of oral antibiotics.
  • Bracing. To stabilize the spine while the infection is in its healing stage, bracing is highly encouraged. Bracing is normally continued for 6 to 12 weeks or when a patient’s pain diminishes. A bony fusion from an x-ray may also indicate that it’s time to stop.
  • Surgical decompression. In the event that an epidural abscess puts pressure on the neural elements, surgical decompression may be necessary. Since surgical decompression usually destabilizes the spine even more, fusion and instrumentation are typically needed to prevent pain and the worsening of the deformity.

Surgery may also be an option if there is a great amount of bone destruction that results in pain and deformity. By stabilizing the spine and reconstructing the body elements, further collapse of the spine and pain can be reduced.

EmergeOrtho: Foothills Region offers high-quality care to patients with vertebral osteomyelitis or infections of the spine. When you meet with our team of board-certified spine and pain experts, you will not need an MRI in advance. In addition, all of our surgeries and procedures are conducted at a variety of hospitals in the Unifour area to save you a long drive. You can select from one of these hospitals for your treatment:

  • Frye Regional Medical Center in Hickory
  • Catawba Valley Medical Center in Hickory
  • Caldwell UNC Healthcare in Lenoir
  • Carolinas Healthcare System Blue Ridge in Morganton