Tarlov cysts are pockets of fluid in the spine. They are most common in the lower back (sacral) area with the nerve roots inside and/or adjacent to the cysts. Some people may also have multiple Tarlov cysts in various locations along the spinal cord. Because the cysts are usually small and cause no symptoms, most people learn they have them after a MRI for an unrelated issue. However, some people experience pain, weakness, or other symptoms from the cysts.
Tarlov cysts may be related to congenital, dural, or arachnoid diverticulum, connective tissue disorders, or nerve root sheath duplication. 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 injury or 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 nerve roots, pain is a common symptom. Pain usually occurs in the lower back, in one or two legs, and in the buttock and genital areas, depending on the location of the cysts. This can result in weakness, trouble standing or sitting, and bladder or bowel problems. 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 or other symptoms, treatment is not usually required. Physicians will recommend monitoring the condition with regular imaging tests. If cysts are growing and causing symptoms, treatment will be recommended. Treatment options for Tarlov cysts include conservative and surgical approaches.