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Arachnoiditis is a chronic pain condition caused by inflammation of the arachnoid membrane, which surrounds and protects the spinal cord nerves. As the disease progresses and the symptoms become worse, the inflammation can lead to scar tissue formation, which in turn can cause the spinal nerves to adhere to one another and malfunction.

Warning Signs & Symptoms

In many people, arachnoiditis affects the lumbar nerves, which can cause severe stinging, burning pain, tingling, numbness, cramps, twitching, spasms or weakness in the low back and legs. People who have arachnoiditis are often unable to work because of the chronic pain.

Other signs and symptoms are:

  • Unusual sensations, such as feeling like there is water trickling down your leg or a feeling similar to an electric shock
  • Bladder, bowel and sexual problems

Possible Risk Factors

There are many reasons why the arachnoid membrane can become inflamed, such as:

  • Chemical dyes
  • Chemonucleolysis (an injection of an enzyme into a bulging spinal disc)
  • Chronic disc prolapse or compression of spinal nerves
  • Epidural blood patch
  • Infection
  • Multiple punctures to the lumbar spine
  • Spinal injections
  • Spinal injury or complications from spinal surgery
  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage
  • Traumatic accident, such as a car accident

Tests to Diagnose Arachnoiditis

Diagnosis can be difficult because the usual signs of inflammation, such as redness or fever, are absent and there is not always a consistent pattern of symptoms. Also, patients could have joint or vertebrae instability, which mimics the pain of arachnoiditis. For these reasons, it’s important to consult a physician.

Physicians will conduct a physical exam which will include checking reflexes. Additionally, physicians may use CAT scans or an MRI to assess the condition, or a test called an electromyogram (EMG) which assesses nerve damage by using electrical impulses.

Treatments Options

Although there is no cure for arachnoiditis, there are treatments that can help reduce pain. These include steroid injections, prescription pain medications, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) or spinal cord stimulation. 

Surgery is generally not used because it can lead to the formation of scar tissue and fibroids.

Mild exercise, massage or hydrotherapy can also alleviate pain. Some people are able to reduce their pain by icing the area or taking over-the-counter pain or anti-inflammatory medicines.