Spinal Infections

Spinal infections are rare but serious medical conditions that occur when bacteria, viruses, or fungi invade the spine. They can affect any part of the spine, including the bones, discs, or tissues around the spinal cord and nerves.


Spinal infections are serious medical conditions characterised by the presence of infectious agents, such as bacteria, viruses, or fungi, in the bones, discs, or tissues of the spine. These infections can occur in any part of the spine, including the cervical (neck), thoracic (mid-back), or lumbar (lower back) regions.


The most common cause of spinal infections is bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus. These infections can enter the spine through the bloodstream or through nearby infections, such as urinary tract infections or skin abscesses. Fungal and viral infections are less common, but they can occur in people with weakened immune systems.


Symptoms of spinal infections can vary depending on the type, location, and severity of the infection. Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Back or neck pain
  • Fever and chills
  • Neurological deficits, such as weakness, numbness, or tingling in the arms or legs
  • Limited mobility
  • Redness and warmth over the affected area


If you have any of the symptoms of a spinal infection, it is important to see a doctor right away. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to prevent serious complications.

Your doctor will start by asking you about your medical history and performing a physical examination. They may also order imaging tests, such as an MRI scan, to confirm the location and extent of the infection. In some cases, they may also take a sample of fluid or tissue from the infected area to identify the type of bacteria or fungus causing the infection.


Treatment for spinal infections typically involves a combination of antibiotics or antifungal medications, pain management, and drainage or surgery.

  • Antibiotics or antifungal medications are used to kill the infectious agent.
  • Pain management is important for relieving discomfort and improving quality of life. This may involve medications, physical therapy, or other treatments.
  • Drainage or surgery may be necessary to remove abscesses or relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.

Benefits Of Treatment

Early diagnosis and treatment of spinal infections can help to:

  • Relieve pain and improve function
  • Prevent further damage to the spine and nerves
  • Improve quality of life

Risks Of Treatment

All medical treatments carry some risks. The risks associated with spinal infection treatments will vary depending on the specific treatment being used. Some potential risks include:

  • Allergic reactions
  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Nerve damage


The recovery time for spinal infections can vary depending on the type and severity of the infection. For most people, it takes several weeks to months to fully recover.


There are a number of things you can do to help prevent spinal infections, such as:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating a balanced diet that includes plenty of calcium and vitamin D
  • Exercising regularly
  • Avoiding smoking
  • Limiting alcohol intake
  • Practising good hygiene
  • Getting regular medical checkups to manage underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes and HIV/AIDS

If you have any concerns about your risk of developing a spinal infection, make an appointment so we can help you to develop a plan to reduce your risk and stay healthy.

Patient Stories

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Case Studies

Excision of infected bone and reconstruction of the spine using instrumentation

  • Patient:

    Mrs C, aged 74
  • Condition:

    Infection of the thoracic spine
  • Treatment:

    Excision of infected bone and reconstruction of the spine using instrumentation

Mr Rai's Notes

Most infections of the spine can be treated with antibiotics but occasionally the infection can destroy the bone causing weakness, paralysis and severe pain. This case illustrates the need for appropriate, prompt aggressive surgery to restore normal function.

Mrs C was a 74 year old lady that presented late with severe pain in the chest and weakness in her legs. She was initially admitted to another hospital and treated with antibiotics. However, within a week her legs became weak such that she could not walk. She was referred to our hospital for a specialist spinal opinion.

Her pre op MRI shows how the infection is destroying the thoracic vertebrae with pressure on the spinal cord. If left untreated it is likely that her paralysis would be permanent and the infection would spread. She underwent a staged surgical procedure with an anterior thoracotomy, excision of the infected material, reconstruction with a titanium cage followed by posterior instrumentation. The procedure took 7 hours to perform.

The post op x-ray shows the reconstruction and at 3 months post op she is able to walk and leads an independent life.

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