Discitis is the inflammation of the inter-vertebral discs, or the spongy discs between vertebrae, typically caused by an infection. In most cases, only a single disc is affected, although the infection can spread to adjacent discs. The condition is rare, but occurs more frequently in children than in adults. Children between the ages of two and seven are most prone to developing discitis. It is extremely rare in elderly patients, as the discs become smaller, less spongy, and less likely to become inflamed with age.
Discitis is typically caused by an infection in another part of the body that enters the spine through the bloodstream. Rarely, the infection may spread from the bones to the disc. Many cases develop after an invasive procedure such as a lumbar puncture. This is most likely because of the introduction of microorganisms into the body from the procedure, which leads to infection.
In some cases, a chemical reaction may be to blame for vertebral discitis. A cortisone injection into the spine can cause the discs to become inflamed in some individuals. Severe trauma to the back may also cause inflammation.
The most common discitis symptoms include moderate to severe pain in the lower back, radiation of pain to other areas of the body, tenderness around the spine, the inability to bend the spine and aggravation of pain with movement. In children, symptoms may include lethargy, inability to walk, leaning forward while walking or difficulty standing up from a sitting position. If the condition is caused by infection, headache and a slight fever may also be present.
Discitis can be difficult to diagnose. If a patient experiences sudden back pain for no apparent reason or exhibits common symptoms, a physician may suspect the condition and begin testing to confirm the diagnosis. A physical examination is followed by a blood test known as an Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR) test. This test checks the blood for an elevated sedimentation rate, which indicates that an infection is present.
Discitis treatment typically consists of taking various medications, including antibiotics, to treat the underlying cause of the infection. Steroids may be administered if the condition does not improve with antibiotic treatment. Pain relievers are often prescribed, and in some cases, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications are used to reduce pain. Bed rest is also recommended for most patients suffering from discitis. Patients should fully recover after treatment without any long-term side effects.