Arachnoiditis: causes and symptoms

Written by: Mr Christopher Chandler
Edited by: Laura Burgess

Arachnoiditis is a rare neurological condition of the spine, which occurs when the arachnoid lining becomes inflamed. The arachnoid is part of a group of three membranes that surround and protect the brain and nerves of the spinal cord. When this protective membrane is inflamed, the nerves may not function properly and it causes burning pain and stinging sensations.

Here, Mr Christopher Chandler of the London Neurosurgery Partnership explains the causes, symptoms and outlook for the condition.

What are the symptoms of arachnoiditis?

Arachnoiditis often causes intense pain in the injured area, which can include the lower back, legs, buttock or feet. There is no consistent pattern of symptoms but they depend on which nerves or areas of the spinal cord are damaged by inflammation. These include symptoms of:

  • Tingling, numbness or weakness in the legs.
  • A crawling sensation on the skin.
  • Severe shooting pain.
  • Muscle cramps, spasms and uncontrollable twitching.
  • Bladder, bowel and possible sexual dysfunction.

In more severe cases of arachnoiditis, it can cause debilitating pain and if left untreated can lead to permanent disability.

How is arachnoiditis diagnosed?

The diagnosis of arachnoiditis can be difficult because the symptoms are similar to other nerve problems in the back. The specialist will carry out a CT scan and/or MRI scan and will use the results to assess whether there is any nerve damage. The diagnosis is confirmed if the nerve roots are shown to have clumped together. An EMG test can assess the severity of the damage to the nerve roots using electrical impulses that check the function of the nerve.

How is arachnoiditis treated?

There is no cure for arachnoiditis and most treatments focus on pain relief and improving symptoms for a better quality of life. Treatment is similar to those who live with other chronic pain conditions.

The specialist will recommend a pain management program in combination with physiotherapy and exercise to help regain movement in the affected areas.

In cases where arachnoiditis causes disability and/ or severe pain, many patients will experience depression. Therapy can help in coping with the emotional and physical pain of the condition.

Surgical procedures such as decompression surgery and foraminoplasty may be recommended but they usually only provide short term pain relief.


Do not hesitate to book an appointment with Mr Chandler to discuss your treatment plan option for arachnoiditis.

By Mr Christopher Chandler

Mr Christopher Chandler is one of London's most highly-experienced neurosurgeons. His NHS base is its King's College Hospital (KCH) and he also practises at a number of reputable private clinics including the London Neurosurgery Partnership for which he is a founder member. His main interests include the management of brain and spinal cord tumours, metastatic brain tumours, epilepsy surgery and hydrocephalus. He leads the paediatric and adolescent neurosurgical service at KCH and forms an integral part of the regional adult brain and spinal cord tumour service, which covers South East London, Kent and East Sussex, making it the largest brain tumour service in the UK.

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