What Are the Symptoms of Arachnoiditis?

Arachnoid membrane is a delicate layer that covers the brain and spinal cord.
Arachnoid membrane is a delicate layer that covers the brain and spinal cord.

The symptoms and severity of arachnoiditis vary from person to person and tend to change over time and worsen, which can be debilitating. Some common symptoms of arachnoiditis include:

What is arachnoiditis?

The Arachnoid membrane is a delicate layer that covers the brain and spinal cord. Arachnoiditis is a term for swelling of the arachnoid layer that may affect the brain and cause clumping together of the nerves emerging out of the spinal cord.

It is characterized by pain in the back, legs, feet, and arms and problems with controlling pee and bowel. Arachnoiditis can also affect a person’s vision and mobility. Although the symptoms may worsen with age and there is no complete cure, with appropriate treatment, it is possible to lead a normal and good quality life.

What are the types of arachnoiditis?

Types of arachnoiditis include:

  • Adhesive arachnoiditis: This is the most severe and progressive type of arachnoiditis. The nerves of the spine get inflamed and stick together.
  • Arachnoiditis ossificans: The arachnoid becomes calcified (turns hard).
  • Cerebral arachnoiditis: The arachnoid membrane surrounding the brain gets inflamed. This causes severe headaches.
  • Hereditary arachnoiditis: This is a rare type and occurs due to genetic defects in the meninges.
  • Neoplastic arachnoiditis: This type of arachnoiditis occurs as a result of neoplasm (cancer).
  • Optochiasmatic arachnoiditis: This type of arachnoiditis occurs from the optic nerve (the nerve behind the eye). It can cause decreased vision or complete vision loss.

What are the causes of arachnoiditis?

The cause of arachnoiditis may influence the type a person develops, as well as the outlook and treatment plan. The most common causes include:

  • Injury during spinal surgery
  • Trauma to the spine
  • Cancer in or around the spine
  • Epidural anesthesia
  • Myelography (a diagnostic procedure where a dye is injected into the spinal column)
  • Chemicals injected into the spine
  • Infections (viral or bacterial)
  • Exposure of the brain to harmful chemicals
  • Lumbar puncture
  • Genetics (rare)

How is arachnoiditis treated?

Treatment options depend on the severity of the condition. The doctor would design a treatment plan. Treatment options include:

  • Physical therapy: Exercise therapy can help strengthen the muscles and reduce pain. Massage therapy and water therapy can help reduce nerve pain temporarily.
  • Painkillers: Painkillers include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroids (to suppress inflammation), and narcotic pain medications such as opioids.
  • Nerve stimulation: Treatments such as spinal cord stimulation and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) stimulate the nerves or spinal cord and may offer relief without medication. 
  • Psychological support: Chronic pain can affect the quality of life, leading to depression that can be difficult; hence, obtaining psychological support can help cope with the condition.


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