Tarlov Cysts

Tarlov Cysts

Tarlov cysts are sacs filled with fluid that can impact the nerve roots of the sacrum, which is a set of bones close to the base of the spine. Many times, Tarlov cysts appear without any symptoms. They sometimes show up during magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) procedures while doctors are looking for something else.


However, these cysts, which are more common among women than men, can also provoke chronic pain. The pain can interfere with walking and even sitting or standing. Pain can be jolting, shooting down the legs to the feet. The pain often increases when a person with Tarlov cysts suddenly moves, as from coughing or sneezing.

The pain often increases when a person with Tarlov cysts suddenly moves

Research has not nailed down a definitive cause for Tarlov cysts. Theories include: Damage to nerve root myelin sheathing starts a process of cerebrospinal fluid moving into the area where the cysts originate. Another theorizes that abnormal communication between that region (the subarachnoid) and nearby nerves provokes the formation of cysts.




Tarlov cysts can present without symptoms, although this likely depends on their location and size. They can grow and put pressure on nearby nerves. They can also grow around nerves.


Common symptoms include:


  • Lower back pain
  • Weakness in legs
  • Trouble/pain while walking or standing
  • Diminished reflexes
  • Loss of sensation in the skin
  • Impotence
  • Lack of bladder and bowel functioning
  • Painful urination
  • Difficulty urinating and emptying bowels
  • Pain or numbness in legs and feet


Treatment and Prognosis


There is no cure for Tarlov cysts, but there are conventional treatments and surgeries available.


Conventional treatments include:


  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)
  • Relaxing in prone position
  • Prescription pain medications
  • Neuromodulation (also called TENS for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation – a technique of sending high-frequency pulses to nerve endings to disrupt pain signals going to the brain


Surgical interventions:


There are several surgical interventions that have some success with Tarlov cysts. Some procedures involve draining the cysts, while others involve drainage followed by filling the cyst with another substance – synthetic or natural – that prevents the cyst from refilling with cerebrospinal fluid.


Discuss pain management and surgery options with physicians at the Sorrento Valley Pain Relief Center in San Diego. Call 858-215-5249 today if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.

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