Spinal disorders

The spinal cord is a vital part of your nervous system. It relays messages between the brain and body. Problems with the spinal cord can cause a loss of sensation and movement. Spinal cord injury (SCI) is often due to acute trauma, such as a car accident. But injury isn’t the only cause of damage to the spinal cord. Certain illnesses and conditions can also cause it. These are known as spinal cord disorders. This sheet outlines the most common types of spinal cord disorders.

Diseases of the spinal cord

Some conditions can affect the spinal cord and stop it from working normally. The main types are listed below.

  • Infections and inflammation. The spinal cord may be damaged by inflammation (myelitis). Or, the tissue around the cord may be inflamed (meningitis or arachnoiditis). The polio virus can lead to spine problems, often years after the infection. In rare cases, an abscess (pocket of infection) on the spinal cord can cause damage.

  • Autoimmune diseases. These are conditions where the body attacks and damages its own tissues. Lupus and multiple sclerosis (MS) are two examples. The nervous system can be affected. This can include the spinal cord. A loss of movement and function can result.

  • Tumors. These are abnormal growths of tissue and may be cancerous or non-cancerous. Any tumor on or near the spinal cord can compress nerves. This can cause loss of movement and feeling. In some cases, taking out the tumor may not be possible as it may cause damage to the spinal cord.

  • Degenerative diseases. These are conditions where body tissues and systems break down and cause loss of function. One example is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease). ALS causes a death of nerve cells over time. This causes muscles to waste. This leads to severe problems with movement, breathing, and other functions.


People with spinal cord disorders have many of the same concerns as people with SCI. Many people with a spinal cord disorder can benefit from self-care and lifestyle information given to people with SCI.


For more information about SCI, go to:

  • The National Spinal Cord Injury Foundation www.spinalcord.org

  • Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation www.christopherreeve.org

  • Paralyzed Veterans of America www.pva.org

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Treatments for Spinal disorders

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Symptoms and Screenings for Spinal disorders

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Causes and Preventions for Spinal disorders

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Education and Resources for Spinal disorders

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