What Is Myelomalacia?

The elderly are most at risk for myelomalacia.
Magnetic resonance imaging is typically used to diagnose myelomalacia.
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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 20 August 2014
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Myelomalacia is a medical condition in which the spinal cord becomes soft. It is caused by insufficient blood supply to the spinal cord, either as a result of bleeding or because of poor circulation. Myelomalacia most often occurs as a result of injury. The elderly are most at risk for the condition, because of reduced bone density, leading to greater risk of spinal cord injury. Athletes are also at increased risk of spinal cord injury.

Caused by mild to severe spinal cord injury, myelomalacia leads to neurological problems, often related to muscle movement. Often, the onset of the condition is slow and subtle, making it difficult for doctors to catch at an early stage. Myelomalacia may present simply as high blood pressure, for example, and may not be diagnosed until after the point at which it has become inoperable.

While symptoms vary, they may include loss of motor function in the lower extremities, sudden jerking of the limbs, an inability to sense pain, depression, difficulty breathing, and paralysis. The damage can migrate towards the brain in a condition known as ascending syndrome. Myelomalacia can be fatal if it causes paralysis of the respiratory system.

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Myelomalacia is diagnosed through one of two imaging techniques, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and myelography. Myelography uses a contrast medium injected into the spine to reveal injuries in x-rays. It is more invasive than an MRI, but can also detect injury in some cases in which MRI cannot. Therefore, myelography is typically used as a follow up to MRI when the latter fails to identify the source of pain or injury.

Unfortunately, neurological damage due to myelomalacia is permanent. It can also worsen, as the nerve damage can cause affected muscles to whither. Treatment is focused on preventing further damage. Possible treatments include spinal cord surgery and medication with steroids, which serves to relax spastic muscles, reduce pain, and reduce swelling of the spinal cord.

Stem cell therapy may be used to repair neurological damage caused by myelomalacia in the future, but the therapy is currently experimental and controversial. Those who oppose stem cell research do so mainly on ethical grounds, since stem cells can be cloned or acquired from human fetuses. Recent technology suggests that adult stem cells, which can be harvested from the patient's own body, show promise in treating neurological damage by allowing new, healthy tissue to grow.

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Discuss this Article

rozel
Post 11

I have read the fear in many of these listings. Yes, you will feel panic when you research online, but if you have a doctor who is skilled in treating this, as well as a physical therapist who specializes in neurological treatment, you will succeed. Believe me. I have had the misfortune of three rear-ended car accidents two within a year of each other and I understand the 'cold burn', the numbness throughout different sections of my affected 'side', the tremors and unbelievable pressure build up, but I have been taught through a wonderful team how to listen to my body and how to address the situation.

Yes, I have numbness and yes, this is now quantified as a permanent injury, but I have learned to pay attention every morning to how my body is responding from the time I open my eyes. I take precautions because one day I could be in a 7-8 level of pain when I wake up and then it moves down to a 3-4. Oh, and yes, many times, it will reverse from a 3-4 when I wake up but be a 7-8 by the end of the, day depending on what 'movements' I may have to accomplish. Just don't give in to the pain. Understand it and make it work for you.

My situation has been managed with mild medicating and daily physical therapy. Please don't be afraid. Listen to your body and you will pull through better than you can imagine.

anon935110
Post 10

I have read the fear in many of these listings ~ Yes you will feel panic when you research on line BUT if you have a Doctor who is skilled in treating as well as a physical therapist that specializes in Neurological treatment you will succeed. Believe me, I have had the misfortune of three rear-ended car accidents two within a year of each other and I understand the 'cold burn', the numbness through out different sections of my affected 'side', the tremors and unbelievable 'pressure' build up BUT I have been taught through a wonderful team how to LISTEN TO MY BODY AND HOW TO ADDRESS THE SITAUTION.

Yes I have numbness and yes this is quantified as a permanent injury BUT I have learned to pay attention EVERY MORNING to how my body is responding from the time I open my eyes. I take precautions because one day I could be in a 7-8 level of pain when I wake up than it moved down to a 3-4. Oh, and yes many a-time it will reverse from a 3-4 when I wake up but be a 7-8 by the end of the day depending on what 'movements' I may have to accomplish. JUST DON'T GIVE INTO THE 'PAIN' UNDERSTAND IT AND MAKE IT WORK FOR YOU.

My situation has been managed with mild medicating and daily physical therapy ~ PLEASE DON'T BE AFRAID ~ listen to your body and you will pull through better than you can imagine.

anon352814
Post 9

I have numbness in my hands, feet, on the left side of my back, from the base of my neck to c 5, but it is surface numbness. My hands and feet are burned a lot of times with pans and bath water. I also get infections in my toes since I don't feel the cold, either. Mine was diagnosed 15 years ago. Mine started at the base. I get my breathing checked every few months, but you just take each day as it comes.

anon338306
Post 8

I have recently been told I am suffering from damage to my cervical spine. The term "myelomalacia" was not used. I have requested a copy of the MRI results which makes mention of the term and the seriousness of the problem.

I am also experiencing difficulties in breathing, which I mentioned to the surgeon, and have been placed on a waiting list for a steroid injection, when I think I should be treated as an emergency patient, especially since I have now learned myelomalacia can be fatal if it causes paralysis of the respiratory system. I am now wondering if I am experiencing the onset of paralysis!

anon333100
Post 6

I have Myelomalacia, caused by a building disc in my neck. Four years ago I had the disc removed, so I am now stable. While I have a great deal of trouble walking, I use a cane or walker and use a scooter for any distance of more than say, 50 meters.

I work five days a week running my own import company, visit customers locally and travel internationally to visit suppliers, and on holidays, drive my car etc. and get on with life. While I do have to be careful of loss of feeling, balance, etc., I find the best thing is to get on with life and don't let it stop you. You only live once. Make the most of what you've got.

anon324029
Post 5

Please don't be scared of Myelomalacia. I have had it for at least three years and i am hanging in there.

candyquilt
Post 4

@turquoise-- Yea, it is dangerous. My friend burned herself badly and didn't even feel it because of loss of feeling from myelomalacia.

I don't think anything can be done about it. I know that for some spinal injuries and spine cancer there are surgeries that can help. For example, if there is nerve damage, they can do nerve fusion by surgery. But myelomalacia is like spinal cord degeneration, so it's not possible to fix it and bring back feeling like that.

turquoise
Post 3

I heard that the numbness caused by myelomalacia is dangerous because the person might not feel an injury when it happens.

Is there any way to get the feeling back once numbness has set in?

fify
Post 2

@anon299154-- I'm sorry to hear that. Do you know how bad it is and when it happened?

My sister has also been diagnosed recently with myelomalacia in her neck. She had been experiencing alternating numbness and pain in her neck area due to spinal cord compression after a car accident several years ago. The neck injury she had from the car accident led to myelomalacia.

Right now she's on pain relievers and physical therapy. It is frustrating because there isn't much that can be done. She just has to make sure not to suffer from any additional injuries so that the myelomalacia doesn't get worse.

Hang in there and keep your spirits up. I think morale is very important for all illnesses. And medicine is developing and stem cell therapy sounds so promising.

anon299154
Post 1

I just found out I have this in the lumbar region! I'm kind of scared, but hopeful. I still need more tests.

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