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Syringomyelia is a disorder in which a cyst forms within the spinal cord. This cyst, called a syrinx, expands and elongates over time, destroying a portion of the spinal cord from its center and expanding outward. When a syrinx widens enough to affect nerve fibers that carry information from the brain to the extremities, this damage results in pain, weakness, and stiffness in the back, shoulders, arms, or legs. Other symptoms may include headaches and a loss of the ability to feel extremes of hot or cold, especially in the hands. Each patient experiences a different combination of symptoms depending on where in the spinal cord the syrinx forms and how far it expands.
A watery, protective substance known as cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) normally flows around the spinal cord and brain. A number of medical conditions can cause an obstruction in the normal flow of CSF, redirecting it into the central canal, and ultimately into the spinal cord itself. For reasons that are only now becoming clear, this redirected CSF fills the expanding central canal and results in syrinx formation. Pressure differences along the spine cause the fluid to move within the cyst. Physicians believe that it is this continual movement of fluid that builds pressure around and inside the spinal cord, and results in cyst growth and further damage to the spinal cord tissue.
Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) flows around the spinal cord and brain, transporting nutrients and waste products. It also serves to cushion the brain. In early development, CSF also fills a small canal through the center of the spinal cord—the central canal—which then collapses normally over time.
Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. www.ninds.nih.gov
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