Back pain may be caused by prolonged sitting, exhaustion, muscle strain or arachnoiditis. If the pain gets worse by the day and is accompanied by fever, nausea, sexual dysfunction and an unsteady gait, it's very likely that it's not going away anytime soon. Better have it checked immediately as chances are, it's arachnoiditis. This guide walks you through the condition, its symptoms, causes as well as possible treatment methods.
What Does Arachnoiditis Do to the Body?
Arachnoiditis is a painful condition caused by the inflammation of the arachnoid mater, which is one of the protective membranes surrounding the spinal cord. It may be due to an infection from bacteria or parasitic agents, a direct injury to the spine or a complication resulting from exposure to chemotherapy drugs or toxic substances. When the spinal nerves are injured, the glial cells trigger an inflammation that causes severe pain in the lower back that travels down to the lower limbs. When left untreated, it will eventually lead to a thickened arachnoid mater, the formation of scar tissue as well as clumped nerve roots.
People with arachnoiditis struggle with constant pain, immobility and fatigue that keep them from performing their day-to-day tasks, even the simple ones that don't require much thought or effort. Because it affects the cauda nerve roots, which are responsible for the body's sensory and motor functions, arachnoiditis is not something that just goes away; in fact, it gets worse over time if it's not managed properly. Chronic adhesive arachnoiditis is the advanced stage of this neurological condition that occurs when there is an obstruction in the way of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) due to scar tissue encapsulation. The decrease in CSF flow will keep the brain from functioning normally and eventually lead to brain disorders.
What Are the Different Types of Arachnoiditis?
Knowing which type of arachnoiditis a person has makes it easier to find the cause of their pain and figure out ways for the improvement of symptoms. Based on the records of healthcare professionals, there are six types of arachnoiditis:
- Adhesive arachnoiditis is the most advanced type that is characterised by the spinal nerve roots clumping together as a result of arachnoid inflammation.
- Neoplastic arachnoiditis is a type of arachnoiditis caused by cancer.
- Arachnoiditis ossificans is a condition wherein the arachnoid is replaced by bone.
- Cerebral arachnoiditis affects the membrane protecting the brain and causes severe headaches.
- Hereditary arachnoiditis affects people with genetic disorders in their meninges.
- Optochiasmatic arachnoiditis is a type of arachnoiditis that develops behind the optic nerve and can cause vision impairment.
What Are the Common Symptoms of Arachnoiditis?
The symptoms of arachnoiditis gradually build up. In fact, the pattern of symptoms varies and depends on the inflamed nerve roots or injured area. People with arachnoiditis reported feeling weakness in their legs at the onset. As it got worse, they started experiencing the following:
- Muscle or joint pain
- Bladder dysfunction
- Burning sensation in lower limbs
- Problems with sexual function
- Blurry vision
- Ringing in ears
- Chronic fatigue
- Inability to stand long
- Headaches and migraines
- Crawling sensation on the skin
- Hydrocephalus as a result of excessive CSF in the subarachnoid spaces
Arachnoiditis is debilitating in nature as the pain can hamper a person's daily function and productivity. Progression of the condition may lead to intractable pain and neurological deficit, if not serious disability.
What Are the Causes of Arachnoiditis?
Medical researchers thought that they had pinned down the main cause of arachnoiditis when they linked it to spinal surgery and myelogram, a type of imaging test used to support radiological findings on problems related to the spine. However, they started to doubt the result of their investigation when it turned out that the majority of patients undergoing myelography have had a spinal procedure in the past. From their reviews of a wide range of medical procedures and radiological studies pertinent to the treatment of arachnoiditis, researchers gathered the condition can be potentially caused by the following:
- Surgical interventions like laminectomy
- Spinal anesthesia
- Epidural anesthesia
- Epidural steroid injections
- Degenerative disc disease
- Parasitic agents
- Lumbar puncture for the collection of cerebrospinal fluid
- Other invasive procedures for pain relief
How is Arachnoiditis Diagnosed?
Since it manifests the same symptoms as other nerve-related conditions, the diagnosis of arachnoiditis can be quite challenging. A medical doctor has to perform a series of neurological tests, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to locate areas of pain and weakness and get a full picture of the body's structure and physiological processes.
Examination tools for traumatic brain injury, such as computerized axial tomography (CAT) and computerized tomography (CT) scans, may also be used to get a detailed image of the brain's structure and soft tissue.
Diagnostic tools that use electrical impulses, such as electromyogram (EMG), are also employed to assess the health of the muscles as well as the nerves that control their functions.
What Are Possible Treatment Options for Arachnoiditis?
Although there is no cure for arachnoiditis, there are ways to manage the pain and protect the spinal column from further complications. Oftentimes, the treatment options that are recommended are similar to what's used for other chronic pain conditions. However, understanding the nature of the cause of a specific type of arachnoiditis is the key to finding the best treatment approach. Knowing, for instance, arachnoiditis ossificans is a by-product of chronic adhesive arachnoiditis will lead to the appropriate treatment protocol for pain management.
A critical aspect of the treatment process is neuroinflammation suppression for pain relief. Doctors may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications, surgical treatment, spinal cord stimulation or exercise and physical therapy. Some patients combine conventional approaches with natural treatments like diet and lifestyle modifications, acupuncture and homoeopathic medicine, to prevent the centralization of pain which may lead to other conditions like hypertension, depression, anxiety, insomnia, fibromyalgia and vasoconstriction or the constriction of blood vessels.
It's not easy to live with arachnoiditis, as it causes severe pain and affects the body's normal processes. As the pain levels heighten, it can take a toll not only on one's physical health but also on their mental and emotional wellbeing. Participating in organisations that raise awareness about arachnoiditis will help sufferers find effective treatment methods which can help relieve pain and improve the quality of life.