Key Points about Spine Infections 

  • Bacteria or fungus causes all types of spine infections.
  • Those who recently had surgery are at an increased risk for developing a spine infection.
  • Treatment for spine infections generally includes medications, rest and, sometimes, surgery.
Common related conditions
Cervical Radiculopathy Spinal Tumors Spinal Stenosis Spinal Osteoarthritis (Arthritis in the Spine)

Spine infections involve the growth of bacteria or fungus in or around the spine. Types of spinal infections include:

Intervertebral disc space infection. This occurs when there is an infection in the space between the space between vertebrae (small spinal bones).

Soft-tissue infection. This is an infection that affects tissues surrounding the spine.

Spinal epidural abscess. This type is an infection that occurs in the space around the dura, which is the tissue that surrounds the spinal cord and nerve root.

Subdural abscess. This type is an infection that occurs in the space between the dura and arachnoid (thin membrane of the spinal cord).

Vertebral osteomyelitis. The most common type of spinal infection, this develops from direct open spinal trauma, due to infection in areas surrounding the spine or from bacteria that spreads to spinal bones from the blood.

Spine infections causes 

Bacteria or fungus that travels through the bloodstream and reaches the spine causes spinal infections.

Spine infections risk factors

Factors that put you at an increased risk for developing spinal infections include:

  • Being malnourished
  • Being older
  • Having cancer
  • Having diabetes
  • Having human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Having recently undergone spinal or urological surgery
  • Having used steroids for a long period of time
  • Having undergone an organ transplant
  • Using intravenous drugs

Spine infections symptoms

Signs and symptoms of spinal infections vary widely, and may include:

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Muscle spasms
  • Severe back pain
  • Trouble controlling bladder or bowels (incontinence)
  • Trouble urinating, or painful urination
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Weakness or numbness in the arms or legs

Those who have recently undergone surgery and have a spine infection may also experience the following symptoms:

  • Redness, swelling or tenderness around the incision
  • Wound drainage

Spine infections diagnosis

Your specialist may recommend one or more of the following tests to diagnose spine infections:

Blood tests. Your specialist will order blood tests to check for acute-phase proteins, erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) or C-reactive protein (CRP) levels. These tests can help your specialist determine if you have an infection.

Imaging tests. Your doctor may order imaging tests – such as computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan – to get a detailed image of your spine and understand the degree of bone destruction or instability.

Spine infections treatment

Your specialist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options for spine infections:

Medications. You may need to take antibiotic or anti-fungal medication, either through intravenous (IV) line or by mouth (oral).

Rest. You may need to rest for a period of time to allow your spine time to heal.

Surgery. If the spinal infection is widespread or long-lasting, your specialist may perform surgery to clean or remove the infected tissue, stabilize your spine and/or try to restore the functionality of your spine.

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a spine specialist for more specialized treatment.