What Is Bamboo Spine?

Category: Back Pain | Author: Stefano Sinicropi

Spinal Retrolisthesis
Ankylosing spondylitis is an inflammatory condition that affects your spinal column. In more severe cases, this inflammation can actually lead to vertebral segments fusing together, which can lead to decreased mobility and other uncomfortable symptoms. It can also lead to a condition known as bamboo spine. In today’s blog, we take a closer look at bamboo spine and your treatment options for severe cases of ankylosing spondylitis.

Bamboo Spine Basics

An adult spine has 24 vertebrae that run from your neck to your lower back, forming your spinal column. In a healthy spine, these vertebrae can move and shift independent of one another. When ankylosing spondylitis develops, inflammation within the spinal column causes one or more of these vertebral segments to fuse together. In patients with bamboo spine, the entire spinal column ends up fusing into one long bone. The condition gets its name from the way that the newly formed spine somewhat resembles a grooved stick of bamboo.

These vertebral segments end up fusing together due to the prolonged inflammation and your body’s repair process. During an ankylosing spondylitis flare-up, tissues that connect to the bones become inflamed. As your body works to calm the inflammation and heal the area, extra bone can form. Over time, this calcification process can cause adjacent segments to fuse together, leading to bamboo spine.

As you might imagine, having one long, fused spinal bone can cause a number of issues for your back and your body. Some common symptoms that develop in patients facing severe ankylosing spondylitis or bamboo spine include:

  • Pain
  • Discomfort when moving
  • Reduced spinal flexibility
  • Difficulty moving your spine

Diagnosing And Treating Bamboo Spine

If you are dealing with any of the above symptoms, set up an appointment with your doctor or a spine specialist. They’ll ask about your symptoms and conduct a physical exam to examine the flexibility of your spinal column. If ankylosing spondylitis or bamboo spine is suspected, a simple imaging test can reveal bone fusion. An X-ray can typically do the trick, although an MRI may be ordered to get a closer look at soft tissues in the area.

Treatment will be dependent on the extent of your condition and how much fusion has taken place. There is no way to unfuse the spinal segments, but certain treatments can help to manage the condition and control symptoms. Common treatments include anti-inflammatory medications, controlled exercise and physical therapy to strengthen the spinal column and maintain or expand your range of motion. Surgery is typically only recommended if the condition has led to a fracture or severe disability, and may involve a spinal osteotomy or laminectomy.

Most patients find enough relief with conservative methods that they do not need to pursue surgery, but since there is no cure, you’ll want to continue pursuing these non-operative methods like exercise and physical therapy for the long haul. They will help you maintain as much strength and function as possible for the foreseeable future.

For more information about ankylosing spondylitis or bamboo spine, reach out to Dr. Sinicropi and the team at The Midwest Spine & Brain Institute today at (651) 430-3800.

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