Spine infection

Older man massaging neck

​Spinal infections are rare conditions that can affect the bones, discs and soft tissues that make up your spine. If the infection progresses, portions of your spine may begin to weaken and crumble. In extreme cases, your nerves or spinal cord may become affected, causing numerous health and mobility issues.

Types of spine infections include:

  • Discitis—an infection within the disc space between two of the bones, or vertebrae, in the spine. 

  • Meningitis—an infection of the fluid surrounding your brain and spinal cord.

  • Osteomyelitis—an infection that affects your vertebrae. It is the most common form of spine infection.

  • Spinal epidural abscess—an infection in the space between the tissue lining the spinal cord and the bones of the spine. 

Spine infection causes and risk factors

Spine infections occur if a bacterial or fungal infection travels through your bloodstream into your spine. Infection elsewhere in the body, such as an open wound or an infected implant, are the most common causes. They may also be the result of an injury or a complication after surgery.

Risk factors for developing a spine infection include:

  • Cancer

  • Diabetes

  • HIV infection

  • Intravenous drug use

  • Long-term use of steroids

  • Malnutrition

  • Organ transplantation

Spine infection symptoms 

Symptoms of spine infection vary, but generally include pain that originates from the infection site. Other symptoms include:

  • Fever and chills

  • Muscle spasms

  • Neck stiffness

  • Redness and swelling

  • Severe back pain

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Weakness or numbness in your legs and arms

  • Wound drainage

Spine infection diagnosis

Diagnosing a spine infection begins with a physical examination by one of the spine specialists at The Christ Hospital Health Network. Further testing is often required and may include:

  • Blood tests—to analyze different components of your blood and determine if an infection is present.

  • Computed Tomography scan (CT scan)—a scanner that uses X-rays to take taking multiple images, or slices of the spine.

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)—a noninvasive way to view organs, tissues, bones, and other structures inside the body.

  • X-ray—uses electromagnetic radiation to produce photographs of bones.

Spine infections treatment 

At The Christ Hospital Joint and Spine, we offer leading-edge treatment for all types of spine infections. 

Treatment options include:

  • Antibiotics or antifungal medication—to combat the infection. In some cases, antibiotics must be administered intravenously with an IV for up to 12 weeks.

  • Bracing—to support your spine until healing is complete.

  • CT-guided biopsy—a needle biopsy of the infected area using CT-guidance for a laboratory culture to determine the specific infectious bacteria or fungus.

  • Surgery—may be needed to clean and remove the infected tissue, improve blood flow to help promote healing, or restore spinal stability. At The Christ Hospital Health Network, we use minimally-invasive surgery techniques whenever possible.

We understand that a spine infection is a painful illness that can make it hard to live your life to the fullest. The team at spine specialist has the experience and the skills to diagnose and treat spine infections so you can get back to your daily activities.

Find a back (spine) and neck specialist near you.