A tarlov cyst is a small fluid-filled sac that typically appears near the spinal vertebrae in the lumbar portion of your spine. You may not be very familiar with the condition, but it’s actually fairly common, as estimates suggest that about 5-10 percent of the population have cyst formations in their spine. That being said, the majority of these cysts are so small that they are asymptomatic, meaning they don’t cause any symptoms and don’t require treatment.
But what happens if your cyst is causing discomfort or other symptoms? We explain how the condition is treated in this blog.
Understanding Tarlov Cysts
There is no known cause for the development of tarlov cysts, however, researchers believe that trauma often causes asymptomatic cysts to enlarge and become symptomatic. Sports injuries and car accidents have been documented as having caused tarlov cysts to grow and compress nearby structures. It’s also not uncommon for women to deal with tarlov cyst flare ups during or after pregnancy.
Symptoms of tarlov cysts at the base of the spine include:
- Pain in the lumbar spine
- Muscle weakness
- Inhibited gait
- Difficulty standing up
- Inhibited relaxes
- Incontinence and bladder dysfunction
Treating Tarlov Cysts
The majority of tarlov cysts respond very well to treatment, but in order for the best treatment plan to be administered, you first need an accurate diagnosis. The diagnosis process begins with a physical exam from a spine specialist. They will ask about your symptoms, take a look at your medical history, and conduct some physical tests. If they suspect that a tarlov cyst is causing your pain, they’ll order imaging tests to confirm their suspicions. Due to the nature of the cyst, they are best revealed using an MRI or CT scan.
Once you’ve been diagnosed, your doctor will walk you through your non-surgical and operative options. Nonsurgical options include exercise, targeted physical therapy, or draining the cyst with a CT guided cyst drainage procedure. If the cyst returns after it has been drained, a neurosurgeon may recommend a minimally invasive operation. During that procedure, the surgeon will drain the cyst and inject a substance into the space to prevent fluid from building back up. They can also remove the cyst or part of the compressed nerve root, but this is dependent on your specific circumstances.
For more information about Tarlov cysts, or to talk to a neurosurgeon about your lumbar spine discomfort, reach out to Dr. Chang’s office today.