Spinal cord infarction is a stroke either within the spinal cord or the arteries that supply it. It is caused by arteriosclerosis or a thickening or closing of the major arteries to the spinal cord. Frequently spinal cord infarction is caused by a specific form of arteriosclerosis called atheromatosis, in which a deposit or accumulation of lipid-containing matter forms within the arteries. Symptoms, which generally appear within minutes or a few hours of the infarction, may include intermittent sharp or burning back pain, aching pain down through the legs, weakness in the legs, paralysis, loss of deep tendon reflexes, loss of pain and temperature sensation, and incontinence.

Treatment is symptomatic. Physical and occupational therapy may help individuals recover from weakness or paralysis. A catheter may be necessary for patients with urinary incontinence.

Recovery depends upon how quickly treatment is received and how severely the body is compromised. Paralysis may persist for many weeks or be permanent. Most individuals have a good chance of recovery.

Prepared by the National Institutes of Health