Tarlov cysts are pockets of fluid surrounding the nerves that make up the spinal cord in the lower back area. Some people may also have multiple Tarlov cysts at one time in various locations along the spinal cord. Because the cysts are usually small and cause no symptoms, most people learn they have them after an x-ray or MRI for an unrelated issue. However, some people experience pain or discomfort from the cysts.
Researchers are still unsure what causes Tarlov cysts. It is believed that some people are genetically predisposed to developing the condition. There is also evidence that the cysts may form as the result of physical strain, including overexertion from lifting, car accidents, repetitive movements, and childbirth. Women are also more likely to experience Tarlov cysts, and the condition is most common in people between the ages of 30 and 60. It is believed that as many as five to nine percent of the population is affected by Tarlov cysts.
Because Tarlov cysts impact the spinal nerves, some patients experience pain or discomfort, mostly in the lower back. Common symptoms include bladder or bowel problems, trouble standing or sitting, buttock and genital pain, and muscle weakness. Tarlov cysts in other areas of the spine may impact the upper back, causing pain and numbness in the neck, arms, and hands.
If you are diagnosed with Tarlov cysts and are not experiencing pain, treatment is not usually required and physicians will recommend monitoring the condition with regular imaging tests. For cysts that are causing discomfort, pain, or are growing, treatment may be recommended. Treatment options include draining fluid to reduce pressure, physical therapy, and steroid injections and medications. In certain situations, patients may be at risk of permanent nerve damage due to pressure and irritation caused by Tarlov cysts and surgery could be required.