Infections of the vertebral column are quite rare considering their tough structure. Direct infections are not known to occur, but transfer of infections from the chest or other adjoining structures is common. The presence of infection in the body increases the stress on the body and also weakens the defenses of the body. Thus, even a simple fever (first sign of infection), can lead to spread of infections to the vertebral column. Hence, we must not take any fever lightly, especially when it occurs regularly over a long time !

Mechanism of Spinal Infections

The single most incriminating factor responsible for spinal infections is blood supply. The blood vessels which carry blood away from the vertebrae or the veins do not have any valves. Thus, the blood from adjacent organs can pass backwards into the vertebrae. This is the precise manner in which infections from the chest, like pneumonia, tuberculosis, and so on, spread to the vertebrae. Chest infections are easily cleared by the immune system of the body, even in the absence of any anti-microbial treatment. However, the organisms which infect the vertebrae reach a safe haven. The immune system cells cannot travel freely to reach the vertebrae in sufficient quantities. Thus, an infection of vertebrae proceeds without any hindrances and an affected person cannot recover without medical treatment !

Symptoms of Spinal Infections

Fever of long duration and generalized weakness with loss of appetite, are common symptoms of severe infections. This can continue for a period of months to years. The fever in these people is not very pronounced and hence, it is commonly ignored and considered insignificant. The back pain can be felt as a constant dull ache, which becomes sharp at times, especially at night and wakes a person from sleep (night pains). Night sweats (profuse sweating during sleep), if present indicate the presence of tuberculosis  infection.

Self treatment of the fever with over the counter medicines causes temporary relief but continued damage of the vertebrae. The production of pus by the infection leads to abscess formation which exerts pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. This causes a gradual loss of sensations of the feet and a clumsy gait and may progress to complete paralysis of both legs.

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Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on May 26, 2010