Spinal hemangiomas, most frequently found in the mid and lower back, are one of the most common tumors affecting the spine. While they usually do not cause symptoms, they can lead to considerable discomfort and issues with the nervous system.
These tumors are typically benign—essentially, an unusual growth of the tiny blood vessels and veins inside the spine. Often, they go unnoticed and are only found by chance when doctors perform imaging tests like X-rays or MRIs for other health issues.
In a small percentage of people, spinal hemangiomas can progress beyond non-symptomatic growths and lead to significant pain and a range of symptoms affecting the back’s nerves.
Symptoms to Watch For
While most spinal hemangiomas are asymptomatic and go unnoticed, symptoms arise when the tumor puts pressure on nearby nerves or the spinal cord.
Hemangiomas in the spine can expand and cause the bones to move out of place. This can happen if the tumor grows beyond the bone or leads to the breakdown of the spinal bones. In less common cases, they may even erode into the spinal canal.
When symptoms do occur, you may experience:
- Severe back pain, often worsening with activity
- Numbness, weakness, or coordination problems in the arms or legs
- Difficulties with bladder or bowel control
Causes of Spinal Hemangiomas
Spinal hemangiomas involve an overgrowth of blood vessels similar to hemangiomas in other parts of the body. However, the exact cause remains unknown. It’s important to note that, unlike hemangiomas in infants, spinal hemangiomas usually do not shrink or disappear by themselves.
How Are Spinal Hemangiomas Diagnosed
If your doctor suspects you have a hemangioma, they will conduct a combination of the following imaging tests to confirm the diagnosis:
- An X-ray is used to look for a specific pattern in the bone, known as a trabecular pattern, which is like a lattice structure inside the bone.
- A CT scan may be done to see if there’s a polka dot appearance in your bone.
- An MRI can help to determine if the tumor has grown into your spinal column or is affecting your spinal cord. It also shows if there’s any nerve damage in your spine, which is important for treatment planning.
What Treatment Options Are Available for Symptomatic Hemangiomas?
When spinal hemangiomas cause symptoms, treatment is needed. If left untreated, they can eventually lead to neurological damage, a loss of range of motion, and even paralysis. Treatment options may vary and include:
- Embolization: This procedure will block the blood flow to the tumor, stopping it from getting the blood it needs to grow.
- Radiation: Radiotherapy is used to eliminate the hemangioma’s vascular structure, reducing the size of the tumor.
- Vertebrectomy or Laminectomy: If the hemangioma is affecting the vertebra, an operation to remove part of the vertebra may be performed.
Talk to Your Doctor About Your Symptoms
If you are experiencing symptoms such as back pain or nerve-related problems like numbness or weakness, it is important to talk to your doctor. Early detection and treatment can help prevent symptoms from becoming worse and more damage from happening.
Schedule an appointment with one of our experts today!