Spinal Infections

Symptoms of Spinal Infection

The symptoms of a spinal infection tend to develop very slowly. For example, it may take you a week to realize that you’re coming down with a cold. In contrast, spinal infections take between 3 days and 3 months to notice, with an average of a month and a half before detection.

If you suspect that you have a spinal infection, then seek medical attention ASAP. Although many of these infections can be treated with antibiotics: A spine infection is considered to be an emergency. In fact, 20% of these infections will prove to be fatal. To avoid serious complications, seek urgent treatment at your local ER or contact your orthopedist immediately

How are Spinal Infections Diagnosed?

Spinal Infections can be diagnosed through a combination of imaging studies and lab work. If you are still in the early stages of an infection, your doctor will likely begin by taking an x-ray. Although x-rays cannot show soft tissues (like spinal discs), they can reveal bone deterioration and loss of disc height. (In this case, a loss of disc height is represented by a decreased amount of space between two vertebrae.) To obtain information about both soft tissues and bone health, your doctor may upgrade your exam to an MRI.

Lab work to diagnose a spinal infection may include examining white blood cell count or markers for inflammation. Specifically, these markers are known as the Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR) and C-reactive Protein (CRP). These indicators will be unusually high in 85% of all spinal infection cases. In addition, your doctor may also use a blood culture to try to isolate the specific pathogen causing your pain. However, blood cultures are successful at identifying pathogens in less than 50% of spinal infection cases.

Spinal Infection Treatment Options

Antibiotic Therapy & Bracing

To treat your spinal infection, your doctor will likely use a combination of intravenous antibiotics and bracing to support your spine as it heals. More often than not, this will be sufficient to help you recover.

Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion (ALIF)

During an ALIF, your doctor will remove the source of infection from your spine and then perform a spinal fusion. Entering the spine from the front (or anterior side), your surgeon will insert a bone graft that will permanently fuse the two vertebrae together for support. Read more...


If your spinal infection has abscessed, then your surgeon may need to perform a laminectomy to relieve pressure on your spinal cord. During a laminectomy, your doctor will remove the back portion of your vertebra (or lamina) to increase space for your spinal cord. Read more...


If your vertebra fractured from the infection, then your doctor will need to perform a kyphoplasty, or vertebral augmentation procedure. During this operation, your doctor will remove the infection and inject a medical-grade cement into the collapsed vertebra. Read more...