Year in and year out, most lawyers handling back injury cases see a lot of herniated discs and fractured vertebra. A less common and for many lawyers poorly understood back injury is syringomyelia.
Syringomyelia is a condition in which a cyst or cavity forms within the spinal cord. While it may be congenital or caused by illness, when there are no symptoms and then it immediately shows up on an MRI after a truck folds up the rear of the person’s car, there is a good chance it is caused by trauma. Motor vehicle collisions are the most common traumatic cause of syringomyelia.
This cavity or cyst, called a syrinx, expands and elongates over time, destroying the center of the cord. Since the spinal cord connects the brain to the nerves in the extremities, this damage may result in pain, weakness, and stiffness in the back, shoulders, arms or legs. Other symptoms may include headaches and loss of the ability to feel extremes of hot or cold, especially in the hands and disruption in body temperature. SM may also adversely affect sweating, sexual function and bladder and bowel control. In extreme cases it may lead to paralysis.
Conservative treatment may involve multiple pain medications. In some patients it may be necessary to drain the syrinx, which can be accomplished using a catheter, drainage tubes, and valves. Surgery is usually recommended for syringomyelia patients, though the rate of success for surgery is not as high as with, for example, ruptured intervetebral discs. However, surgery is only recommended when the condition is severe enough, and doctors may choose to defer surgery as long as appears safe.
Ken Shigley is president-elect of the State Bar of Georgia. He is also author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation & Practice and a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy. He has been listed as a "Super Lawyer" (Atlanta Magazine), among the "Legal Elite" (Georgia Trend Magazine), and in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers. He practices law at the Atlanta law firm of Chambers, Aholt & Rickard, and has broad experience in catastrophic personal injury, spinal cord injury, wrongful death, products liability, brain injury and burn injury cases. This post is subject to our ethical disclaimer.