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Spine Disorders

​​​​Spine disorders range from degenerative diseases to cancer.

Your spine is an important part of your nervous system and keeping it healthy is a top priority for Marshfield Clinic spine specialists.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Understanding Spinal Cord Disease

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.

Coping with a spinal cord disease

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

  • Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation

  • Paralyzed Veterans of America

Request Appointment

Contact us for care

If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

Call: 1-866-520-2510

(Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.)

Take the Spine Health Quiz

Back pain is one of the most common nerve-related illnesses in the United States. Keeping your spine in good health is one way to avoid back pain. Learn more about your spine and back pain by taking this quiz, based on information from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

1. How many healthcare provider visits each year are because of back problems?
2. The spinal cord is an extension of what?
3. One of the most common back injuries is a slipped, or herniated, disk. What does this mean?
4. What causes a slipped disk?
5. A sprain or strain of the ligaments and muscles in the back is one of the most common causes of back pain. How can a sprain or strain occur?
6. Spinal stenosis refers to a narrowing of the spinal canal. This is associated with aging, as the disks become drier and start to shrink. Where does pain from spinal stenosis usually occur?
7. What happens when osteoarthritis occurs in the spine?
8. What can be done to prevent back pain?
9. Spondylolysis can cause back pain in young athletes. What is it?

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