Recently I came across a patient that I was working with who has the condition syringomyelia. I had never heard of this before, so I did a little research on it. That’s one thing I love about nursing—there is ALWAYS more to learn.


Syringemyelia spinal cyst.jpg

Syringomyelia is a rare disorder in which a fluid-filled cyst (also known as a syrinx) develops within a person’s spinal cord. Over time, the cyst may continue to grow causing damage to the spinal cord. This damage can cause weakness, pain, and stiffness in the back, shoulders, arms, and legs. Other symptoms can include the following:

  • Inability to feel pain

  • Inability to feel cold

  • Bowel and bladder problems

  • Difficulty walking

  • Facial pain and numbness

  • Curvature of the spine

Syringomyelia is diagnosed on an MRI. This imaging shows the fluid-filled cyst on the spinal cord.


Most cases of syringomyelia are caused by a malformation where the brain and spinal cord meet. This malformation is called a Chiari type 1 malformation (CM1). With this condition, the lowest part of the brain called the cerebellum protrudes down into the spinal canal.

Syringomyelia can also develop as a result of other etiologies:

  • Trauma

  • A tumor

  • Hemorrhage

  • Meningitis

  • Arachnoiditis


The American Center for Spine and Neurosurgery states that treatment involves the following: '“a syrinx to subarachnoid shunt is used to restore the natural flow of cerebrospinal fluid. This type of shunt is used to treat syringomyelia. The goal of the surgery is to remove the pressure the syrinx places on your spinal cord. The shunt is a flexible tube with a valve that keeps fluid from the syrinx flowing in the desired direction. The tube is placed with one end in the syrinx and the other just outside the spinal cord. The shunt is placed internally. In some cases, the syrinx may remain even after surgery. Even after a shunt is placed, some signs and symptoms of syringomyelia may remain, as a syrinx can cause permanent spinal cord and nerve damage. “


Mayo Clinic


American Center for Spine and Neurosurgery

AuthorCourtney Tracy