What are infections of the spinal column?

While rare, infections of the spinal column do occur. They can be due to direct (primary) infections by bacteria or viruses, or can be secondary to infections that originated elsewhere in the body.

Infections of the spinal column require expert attention. UC Davis Spine Center doctors are equipped with state-of-the-art technology to diagnose and treat all spine infections.

Common spinal column infections include: discitis, an infection of the disc space that is more common in children; osteomyelitis, an infection of the vertebral bone; epidural abscess, an infection in the space above the dura (covering of the spinal cord and nerve roots); and post-surgical wound infections.

How are spinal column infections diagnosed?

Spinal column infections can cause a wide variety of symptoms, including pain, fever, abnormal blood cell counts, loss of appetite, chills, achiness, or redness or tenderness at an incision site. A person with an infection may also experience no symptoms at all.

Certain risk factors increase the incidence of spinal infections. These include smoking, obesity, malnourishment, a suppressed immune system, diabetes, certain drugs and recent urinary tract surgery.

Your doctor will evaluate your medical history and perform an examination. He or she may also prescribe appropriate blood tests and imaging of your spine to help confirm your diagnosis. In some cases, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is useful.

What are the treatment options?

Oral antibiotics or more intensive, longer-term intravenous antibiotic therapy may be necessary to cure bacterial infections. In some people, surgery is required to remove damaged tissue or to replace surgical hardware that may be exacerbating the problem.

Together, you and your spine center doctor will determine the approach that is best for you.