Arachnoiditis might sound like something to do with spiders, but it’s actually an often overlooked cause of back pain and leg tremors. If you have severe, constant back pain and find it difficult to stand for any length of time, you might want to talk to your doctor to see if you have arachnoiditis.
Arachnoiditis is not necessarily degenerative, unlike most causes of back pain. Instead, this condition involves inflammation in the arachnoid space that surrounds the spinal cord nerves. The good news is that it is sometimes easier to control inflammation than to slow down or reverse spinal degeneration.
In some cases, arachnoiditis can be connected to a systemic immune system disorder. This would require different treatment to more straightforward localized inflammation.
Symptoms of arachnoiditis to watch out for include:
- Severe pain in the lower back
- Paralysis in the legs and feet
- Bowel dysfunction or urinary incontinence.
In one study of 26 people with confirmed arachnoiditis, all of the participants reported constant, severe pain that prevented them from standing for too long. The patients instead had to sit or lie down to get any respite from pain. The study was presented at the American Academy of Pain Management (AAPM) 2015 Annual Meeting on September 19, 2015.
All of the participants in this study also reported leg tremors or jerking in their legs. Almost all (88.5%) of the patients reported intense episodes of heat and sweating, difficulty urinating or having a bowel movement, and occasional blurred vision.
Is arachnoiditis causing your back pain?
Take a look at the following questions to see if your symptoms might be connected to arachnoiditis:
- Do you have constant back pain?
- Does standing for too long hurt so much that you have to sit or lie down?
- Have you ever collapsed while standing or walking?
- Do you have pain when you lie flat on your back?
- Do you have pain when you walk up stairs?
- Do you have occasional leg tremors, jerking, or shooting pains?
- Do you ever experience a burning sensation or electrical-type pain in your feet?
- Do you feel pain in your back if you raise one leg straight while standing?
- Have you experienced any urinary or bowel incontinence?
- Is it sometimes difficult to begin urinating or defecating?
- Are you experiencing periods of unexplained intense sweating or heat?
- Do you sometimes sleep sitting up, so as to avoid back pain?
- Do you sometimes have pain behind your eyes?
- Do you ever experience blurred vision?
- Do you often have cold hands or feet unexplained by your environment?
- Do you sometimes feel crawling or twitching sensations over your back?
If you answered yes to more than half of these questions, see your physician to get properly diagnosed and treated.
What causes arachnoiditis?
In the study just mentioned, all patients had undergone a variety of spine surgeries or procedures. This is a common cause of arachnoiditis, with other causes including infections, direct spine injury, chemical damage, and ongoing spinal nerve compression.
Arachnoiditis has long been considered rare, but cases seem to be on the rise. This may be because more people are undergoing spinal manipulations, spinal taps, and back surgery than ever before.
What’s the prognosis?
The prognosis for arachnoiditis is rather unpredictable. Physicians generally used to think that nothing significant could be done to help patients with this spine condition, other than prescribing powerful opioid pain relievers. Fortunately, more treatments are now available, so the prognosis is not quite so depressing.
In some cases, ongoing inflammation in arachnoiditis may lead to the spinal nerves sticking together. This causes more pronounced symptoms and may lead to permanent paralysis in the lower limbs.
How is arachnoiditis treated?
The key to dealing with arachnoiditis is combined pain management. This means using medications such as corticosteroids, hormones, powerful anti-inflammatory drugs, and complementary therapies. Electromagnetic therapies may be prescribed, along with specific stretching exercises (different to Pilates back pain stretches or yoga).
If you suspect that your back pain is connected to arachnoiditis, talk to your physician as soon as possible. Getting early treatment may help prevent permanent problems and help you relieve your back pain faster.