Back Pain Inflammatory Infectious Disorders

Inflammatory and Infectious Disorders

Though infections and inflammation of the spine are rare, if they are neglected for a period of time, or if there is a delay in diagnosis, they can become a significant source of pain and disability. Bone and joint infections anywhere in the body can be crippling and life threatening.


Discitis is a low-grade infection that affects the disc space between two vertebrae. Although discitis is uncommon, children under ten are usually the ones affected by this condition which is the result of an inflammation caused by staphylococcus, viruses, or other inflammatory processes. Discitis is characterized by the slow onset of severe back pain and may or may not be associated with fever, chills, sweats, feeling tired, loss of appetite or other symptoms. The diagnosis is usually made by seeing narrowing of the disc space between two vertebrae and a bone scan that shows that the disc and adjacent vertebrae are "hot" on the scan. This condition can be very painful and is often aggravated by any movement of the spine. The pain often travels to other parts of the body including the abdomen, hip, leg, or groin. It usually occurs in the lower (lumbar) back and upper (thoracic) back.

Young children with this condition are usually irritable and uncomfortable and refuse to sit up, stand or walk. The treatment of discitis generally involves antibiotics, rest, and a brace. Surgery is rarely needed.

Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis is a rare condition that can cause back and neck pain. It is a rheumatic inflammatory disease that affects the spine and sacroiliac joints. Although it primarily attacks the spine (usually the low back first), this chronic and painful disease can also attack other joints, tendons and ligaments, and the chest wall.

Over time, this disease can cause the vertebral bodies in the spine to fuse together. When this happens, patients with ankylosing spondylitis can have difficulty moving freely. Common symptoms for ankylosing spondylitis are gradually occurring back pain and stiffness (usually over a period of weeks or months). Early morning stiffness is often helped with a warm shower or light exercise. Symptoms last longer than three months.

In particularly severe cases, patients may be unable to look above the level of the horizon, or they may develop a significant amount of pain from having a hunched over posture. Ankylosing spondylitis is usually diagnosed using x-rays of the sacroiliac joints, looking for changes in the tissues caused by inflammation. However, tissue changes are not always visible.

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