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Symptoms of Syringomyelia

Some people with syringomyelia experience no symptoms at all, and the condition is diagnosed after an MRI or other imaging test administered for an unrelated condition. Symptoms, when they do occur, are usually related to the pressure of the accumulated fluid on the spinal cord. The symptoms will vary according to the location of the syrinx along the spinal cord.

A syrinx may cause the following symptoms:

  • Pain (sometimes severe, and usually concentrated in the neck, upper back, and shoulders;  pain may occur in the lower back, stomach, or chest if the syrinx is located lower in the spinal cord)
  • Weakness, especially in the hands and feet
  • Stiffness or numbness
  • Loss of sensation in the arms
  • Numbness over the arms with a “cape effect” — that is, the numbness is distributed across the shoulders and arms in the area where a cape would be draped
  • Urological, gastrointestinal, or sexual dysfunction due to spinal cord compression

Symptoms can worsen after trauma or concussion in a patient who already has a syrinx. 

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Greenfield, Ph.D., M.D. 
Last reviewed/last updated: April 2021