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Chiari I Malformation - Syringomyelia

Robert Karns

Chiari I malformation can result in a condition known as syringomyelia. This is a condition whereby the Chiari I malformation causes a syringomyelia or syrinx (fluid filled cyst or cavity) due to blockage.

This condition occurs when the cerebellar tonsils (lower part of the cerebellum) descend into the foramen magnum (opening in the bottom of the skull where the spinal cord enters the skull) causing an obstruction and blockage to the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). As a result, the CSF is redirected to the spinal cord. The pressure differences that this causes along the spine cause the fluid to move within the cord causing a syrinx (syringomyelia) due to the blockage of CSF.

The symptoms of syringomyelia include:

  • Back pain
  • Headache (especially straining, sneezing or coughing)
  • Stiffness
  • Weakness or pain in the back, shoulders, arms and/or legs
  • Loss of ability to feel extremes of hot or cold especially in the hands

It is the opinion of many treating physicians that previously asymptomatic Chiari I malformation can become symptomatic including symptoms from syringomyelia after injury. People that have this condition and don't know it because they suffer no symptoms and have never had the condition studied by MRI can experience symptoms from the Chiari I malformation and syringomyelia following injuries to the neck or head. This is because of the aggravation of the condition caused by injuries that in return make the condition symptomatic.

Diagnosis can be made by undergoing MRIs of the brain and cervical spine, as recommended by a neurosurgeon.


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