Normally, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) flows from the ventricles (fluid pockets) of the brain down the spinal canal and back to the brain. Spinal fluid pulsates in this manner with every beat of the heart- over 100,000 times per day. When there is a blockage in the flow of spinal fluid, an abnormal CSF pathway forms, resulting in a syrinx or syringomyelia. Syringomyelia (or syrinx) is an abnormal fluid cavity that forms inside the spinal cord.
The most common cause of Syringomyelia is the Chiari I malformation which causes obstruction of spinal fluid at the base of the skull. Other causes can be trauma, tumor, or arachnoiditis. Syringomyelia can cause pressure on the nerves that control pain, sensation and strength.
Symptoms of syringomyelia include (but are not limited to) pain in the neck or back, pain in the arms/hands, numbness, tingling, and sometimes weakness of the arms/hands/lower extremities.
The test of choice for diagnosis of syringomyelia is an MRI of the cervical (neck) and/or thoracic (middle back) spine.
Treatments for Syringomyelia include medications for nerve pain, or in some cases surgery. If the cause of syringomyelia is the Chiari malformation, the treatment is often decompression surgery to make more space at the base of the skull.