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Diskitis

Diskitis is swelling (inflammation) and irritation of the space between the bones of the spine (intervertebral disk space).

Alternative Names

Disk inflammation

Causes

Diskitis is an uncommon condition. It is usually seen in children younger than age 10.

Diskitis can be caused by an infection from bacteria or a virus. Or, it can be caused by other inflammation, such as from autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune diseases are conditions in which the immune system mistakenly attacks certain cells in the body.

The upper back (thoracic) and low back (lumbar) disks are most commonly affected.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include any of the following:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Back pain
  • Difficulty getting up and standing
  • Increased curvature of the back
  • Irritability
  • Low-grade fever (less than 102 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Recent flu-like symptoms
  • Refusal to sit up, stand, or walk (younger child)
  • Stiffness in back

Exams and Tests

The doctor will perform a physical exam on your child and will ask about the child's medical history.

Tests that may be ordered include any of the following:

Treatment

The goal is to treat the cause of the inflammation and reduce pain. Your child may receive antibiotics if the health care provider suspects an infection caused by bacteria. Autoimmune diseases are often treated with anti-inflammatory medications.

If the condition does not improve, steroids may be given. But an infection should be ruled out first. Pain may be relieved with painkillers (analgesics ) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). Talk to the health care provider about the best choice of medicines.

Bed rest or using a brace to keep the back from moving may be recommended in some cases.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Children with an infection should fully recover after treatment. Chronic back pain from this condition is very rare.

In cases of autoimmune disease, the outcome depends on the condition. These are often chronic illnesses.

Possible Complications

Complications may include:

  • Persistent back pain (rare)
  • Side effects of medications

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if your child has back pain that does not go away, or problems with standing and walking that seem unusual for his or her age.

References

Gutierrez KM. Diskitis. In: Long SS, ed. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2008:chap 82.

Spiegel DA, Dormans JP. Disk space infection. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 671.7.

Updated: 9/8/2014

C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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