Syringomyelia refers to a cyst in the spinal cord. The cyst is called a syrinx. It can expand over time, and damage the spinal cord. During expansion or elongation of the cyst, it compresses and damages the nerve fibers that send information from the brain to the extremities.

Syringomyelia, or forming of a cyst in the spinal cord, occurs when there is an excess cerebrospinal fluid redirected into the spinal cord and central canal. The cerebrospinal fluid transports nutrients and waste products and acts as a cushion to protect the brain and spinal cord, from the brain to the center of the spinal cord.

There are two forms of syringomyelia:

  • Chiari malformation, when the lower part of the cerebellum protrudes from the back of the head into the cervical or neck part of the spinal canal; this form is also referred to as communicating syringomyelia
  • Noncommunicating syringomyelia as a result from a trauma, meningitis, hemorrhage, a tumor, or arachnoiditis. 

In cases where the brainstem is involved, the condition is called syringobulbia.



The symptoms of syringomyelia are:

  • weakness in the arms and legs
  • stiffness in the back, shoulders, arms, or legs
  • chronic, severe pain
  • headaches
  • loss of the ability to feel extremes of hot or cold (especially in the hands)
  • loss of reflexes
  • loss of bladder, bowel function
  • scoliosis
  • hydrocephalus


Symptoms usually occur between 25 and 40s. Each individual may experience different symptoms depending on the type of syringomyelia and how far the syrinx extends.  



The exact cause of syringomyelia is not known. The following conditions can be the cause:

  • Chiari malformation (brain tissue protrudes into the spinal canal)
  • Spinal cord tumors, which interfere the circulation of the cerebrospinal fluid
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes surrounding your brain and spinal cord



The complications from syringomyelia occur when there is a progression of the disorder. These include:

  • Scoliosis
  • Chronic pain
  • Myelopathy, which is graded in seven levels, from Grade 0 with no symptoms to Grade VI, being bedridden; this complication can further lead to other complications, such as: pneumonia, paraplegia, quadriplegia, decubitus ulcers, or bowel and urinary dysfunction