The Vault

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Vertebral Osteomyelitis & Spinal Infection: An Overview

spine infection, spine doctor

Vertebral Osteomyelitis is a condition in which a vertebral bone in the spine becomes infected. Often referred to as Spinal Osteomyelitis or a spinal infection, it occurs because of bacteria entering a vertebra in the lumbar (lower back) area through blood supplied by the veins in that region. In rare instances, the ailment can occur in the cervical (neck) or thoracic (torso) vertebrae, as well as the sacrum. Vertebral Osteomyelitis is a rare cause of back pain in adults and is a severe ailment that can lead to permanent problems with spinal deformities, nerve conduction issues, paralysis, and even death. Vertebral Osteomyelitis is a frequently-overlooked diagnosis due to the vagueness of its symptoms.

The most common causes of vertebral osteomyelitis are:

  • IV drug use (cervical region)
  • AIDS
  • Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellites
  • Malnutrition
  • Compromised immune system due to cancer or organ transplant
  • Long-term steroid therapy

Known symptoms of vertebral osteomyelitis include:

  • Chills, fever, or shakes
  • Back pain that is worse at night than during the day
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Redness, swelling, and warmth in the infection area
  • Hip and knee muscle irritation
  • Unable to straighten neck
  • Loss of the spine’s natural curve

When vertebral osteomyelitis is suspected, blood cultures are done to find the presence of infectious bacteria. A needle biopsy with CT placement guidance is available when needed to help obtain samples. X-ray, MRI with IV dye, and bone scans are also ordered by the physician to confirm the condition. Consultation with an expert familiar with vertebral osteomyelitis, such as an infectious disease specialist, is strongly recommended

The treatment plan for vertebral osteomyelitis is usually conservative, and starts with rest and IV antibiotics, with the option for bracing when needed. Surgical intervention is regularly necessary to clean out the infected area, with depression and fusion to follow to relieve pressure on the spine.

If you are experiencing unresolved back pain would like to schedule a consultation with one of our specialists, please call us at either our New Braunfels or Seguin offices.

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