Infections of the spine

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Spinal imagery


Spinal infections can occur after surgery or spontaneously in individuals at risk of infection. Risk factors include poor nutrition, cancer, diabetes, immunosuppressive conditions or high BMI. Prolonged surgery or repeat operations can also cause infections.

Need to know

If you have an infection you are likely to experience pain, swelling, stiffness, redness or a warm feeling around the spine. This may be combined with a high temperature or fever, although less so in young children. In some cases, you may notice new weakness, numbness or tingling sensations in the arms and/or legs. The symptoms may be very severe, or they may be very subtle in some cases.
When diagnosing infection, you'll probably first have a blood test. Your consultant or GP may also recommend a scan, or a biopsy when they'll take a small amount tissue from the spine to test it in the laboratory.
If you have an infection, your consultant will prescribe you antibiotics, usually for at least six weeks. If the infection is severe, you may have to stay in hospital to have antibiotics intravenously, which is when they are given directly into your vein. In some cases, you may need surgery. This could be to remove bone damaged by the infection, to prevent possible deformity or to relieve pressure on the spinal cord.

Patient stories

This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.