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Spinal Malformations

What is a spinal malformation?

Congenital spinal malformations are abnormalities of the bone or soft tissue of the head and spine that are present at birth. Malformations vary in severity depending on the specific condition. Some of the more common conditions include:

  • Chiari malformations, a condition in which brain tissue extends into the spinal canal
  • Spina bifida, the incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord or protective covering around them<
  • Arteriovenous malformations, tangles of arteries and veins in the brain or spinal cord
  • Arachnoid cysts, fluid-filled sacs that appear in one of the three layers of tissue covering the central nervous system
  • Cavernous malformations, clusters of abnormal blood vessels through which blood flows slowly

Common symptoms

Because of the range of conditions, symptoms also vary widely. Some people may not experience any symptoms at all, and their conditions are only discovered during the course of diagnosing or treating another unrelated condition. In other cases, symptoms can be debilitating and life-threatening, including neurological issues, back pain, loss of feeling, seizures and vision problems. Although the condition may have been present from birth, symptoms may gradually worsen over time or may not become apparent until adulthood.

How is a spinal malformation diagnosed?

Some malformations are apparent during pregnancy or at birth. In other cases, your physician will perform imaging tests, computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, to uncover the presence of a malformation. Angiography, in which a dye is used to highlight the blood vessels on X-rays, may also be used to obtain images of the blood vessel structure.

How is a spinal malformation treated?

Treatment will depend on the type of malformation and symptoms. Asymptomatic malformations may simply be monitored, while those causing problems may require surgery or stereotactic radiosurgery, such as the CyberKnife®.

The surgeons at Rex Neurosurgery & Spine Specialists can help you decide on the treatment that's best for you. They specialize in minimally invasive spine surgery and are experienced in diagnosing and treating disc disorders and disease, using the newest techniques for relieving pain and returning you to an active lifestyle. To make an appointment at Rex Neurosurgery & Spine Specialists, call 919-784-1410.