An Overview of Spinal Lesions

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A spinal lesion describes any area of abnormal tissue on the spinal cord, whether it is benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Also known as a central lesion because of its impact on the central nervous system, spinal lesions have many different causes and, depending on their location, can cause different neurological (nerve-related) symptoms.

This article looks at the possible symptoms and causes of spinal lesions and provides an overview of how spinal lesions are commonly diagnosed and treated.

Doctor scrutinizes x-ray for lesions.
Dolgachov / Getty Images

Symptoms

Spinal lesions can cause different symptoms depending on their location on the spinal cord as well as the lesion type and cause. There may be problems with motor skills and abilities. Some people experience chronic pain, while others may have a loss of certain bodily functions due to the blockage or interruption of nerve signals.

Among the possible symptoms of a spinal cord lesion are:

  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling, prickly, or burning sensation
  • Electrical shock-like sensations
  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Difficulty with fine motor skills (such as writing)
  • Problem with balance or coordination
  • Loss of reflexes or overactive reflexes
  • Muscle spasms
  • Changes in sexual function
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Paralysis

Recap

Spinal lesions can cause a diverse range of neurological symptoms depending on their location, type, and cause. These may include pain, abnormal sensations, loss of motor skills, and the loss of certain bodily functions.

Causes

A lesion is an abnormal change caused by a disease or injury that affects any tissue or organ. Spinal lesions have a wide variety of possible causes, including:

Recap

The causes of spinal lesions include trauma, infections, tumors (benign or malignant), and inflammatory diseases affecting the spine. They can also be caused by autoimmune, congenital, degenerative, or vascular disorders affecting the spine.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of a spinal lesion typically begins when a lesion is spotted on an X-ray or other imaging test. In addition to a physical exam and a review of your medical history, a neurological exam will be performed to check for any abnormalities in your reflexes, sensations, strength, and coordination.

Based on the findings, other tests may be performed to narrow the possible causes. These may include:

Recap

Depending on the suspected cause, the diagnosis of a spinal lesion may involve a neurological exam, lab tests, imaging studies (including myelography), a lumbar puncture, or a tumor biopsy.

Treatment

The treatment of a spinal lesion varies by the underlying cause. Among the examples:

Physical therapy may be able to help restore function after treatment and initial recovery.

Recap

The treatment of a spinal lesion varies by the underlying cause whether it be an infection, inflammatory disease, autoimmune disorder, or cancer. Surgery may be needed for degenerative or congenital conditions affecting the spine as well as benign or malignant tumors.

Summary

A spinal lesion is an abnormal change caused by a disease or injury that affects tissues of the spinal cord. Symptoms include pain, abnormal sensations, loss of motor skills or coordination, or the loss of certain bodily functions. Causes include trauma, infection, autoimmune diseases, inflammatory diseases, spinal degeneration, congenital malformations, and benign or cancerous tumors.

Spinal lesions are commonly spotted on imaging tests. Based on the suspected cause, the doctor may perform a neurological exam, various blood or urine tests, additional imaging tests, a spinal tap, or a tumor biopsy. The treatment varies by the diagnosed causes.

A Word From Verywell

If your healthcare provider tells you that you have a spinal lesion, it simply means that something unusual was spotted on your spinal cord. Try not to jump to conclusions or assume that you have cancer. While spinal cancer is possible, it is actually one of the more uncommon causes unless you already have another form of cancer that has metastasized (spread).

Take things one step at a time, and provide your doctor with as much information about your symptoms and medical history to help narrow the possible causes.

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  1. Rubin M. Overview of spinal cord disorders. Merck Manual Professional Version.