Spinal Cord Infarction

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What is spinal cord infarction?

Spinal cord infarction is a stroke within the spinal cord or the arteries that supply it. It is caused by arteriosclerosis or a thickening or closing of the major arteries to the spinal cord. Frequently spinal cord infarction is caused by a specific form of arteriosclerosis called atheromatosis, in which a deposit or accumulation of lipid-containing matter forms within the arteries.

Symptoms, which generally appear within minutes or a few hours of the infarction, may include:

  • Intermittent sharp or burning back pain
  • Aching pain down through the legs
  • Weakness in the legs
  • Paralysis, loss of deep tendon reflexes
  • Loss of pain and temperature sensation
  • Incontinence

    Treatment is symptomatic. Physical and occupational therapy may help individuals recover from weakness or paralysis. A catheter may be necessary for individuals with urinary incontinence.

    Recovery depends upon how quickly treatment is received and how severely the body is compromised. Paralysis may persist for many weeks or be permanent. Most individuals have a good chance of recovery.

    Learn About Clinical Trials
    Clinical trials are studies that allow us to learn more about disorders and improve care. They can help connect patients with new and upcoming treatment options.

    How can I or my loved one help improve care for people with spinal cord infarction?

    Consider participating in a clinical trial so clinicians and scientists can learn more about spinal cord infarction and related disorders. Clinical research uses human volunteers to help researchers learn more about a disorder and perhaps find better ways to safely detect, treat, or prevent disease.

    All types of volunteers are needed—those who are healthy or may have an illness or disease—of all different ages, sexes, races, and ethnicities to ensure that study results apply to as many people as possible, and that treatments will be safe and effective for everyone who will use them.

    For information about participating in clinical research visit NIH Clinical Research Trials and You. Learn about clinical trials currently looking for people with spinal cord infarction at Clinicaltrials.gov.

    Where can I find more information about spinal cord infarction?

    Information may be available from the following resources:

    Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation
    Phone: 973-379-2690 or 800-225-0292


    Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA)
    Phone: 800-424-8200

    United Spinal Association
    Phone: 718-803-3782 or 800-962-9629

    Learn about related topics

    Order publications from the NINDS Catalog
    The NINDS Publication Catalog offers printed materials on neurological disorders for patients, health professionals, and the general public. All materials are free of charge, and a downloadable PDF version is also available for most publications.