Tarlov Cysts

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What are Tarlov cysts?

Tarlov cysts (also known as meningeal cysts or perineural cysts) are fluid-filled sacs that are usually found at the bottom of the spine (the sacrum). The cysts appear in the roots of the nerves that grow out of the spinal cord.

Shock or trauma of the spine, or exertion, can cause spinal fluid in the cysts to build up. Most Tarlov cysts cause no symptoms. However, if these cysts press against the roots of the nerves, they can cause a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Lower back pain
  • Sciatica (shock-like or burning pain in the lower back, buttocks, and down one leg to below the knee)
  • Loss of bladder control (urinary incontinence)
  • Headaches (due to changes in spinal-fluid pressure)
  • Constipation
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Some loss of feeling or control of movement in the legs and/or feet

    Pressure on the nerves next to the cysts also can cause pain and the surrounding bone to deteriorate (decay). Acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) pain may require changes in a person's lifestyle.

    If the cysts are not treated, nerve root compression can cause permanent damage to the nervous system. Women are at much higher risk of developing these cysts than men. For some people, Tarlov cysts that cause long-term (chronic) symptoms can lead to depression.

    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 Tarlov cysts?

    Consider participating in a clinical trial so clinicians and scientists can learn more about Tarlov cysts 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 Tarlov cysts at Clinicaltrials.gov.

    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.