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Diskitis

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

Causes

Diskitis is an uncommon condition. It is usually seen in children younger than 10 years and in adults around 50 years of age. Men are more affected than women.

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

Disks in the neck and low back 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 (102°F or 38.9°C) or lower
  • Sweating at night
  • Recent flu-like symptoms
  • Refusal to sit up, stand, or walk (younger child)
  • Stiffness in back

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask about the symptoms.

Tests that may be ordered include any of the following:

Treatment

The goal is to treat the cause of the inflammation or infection and reduce pain. Treatment may involve any of the following:

  • Antibiotics if the infection is caused by bacteria
  • Anti-inflammatory medicines if the cause is an autoimmune disease
  • Pain medicines such as NSAIDs
  • Bed rest or a brace to keep the back from moving
  • Surgery if other methods don't work

Outlook (Prognosis)

Children with an infection should fully recover after treatment. In rare cases, chronic back pain persists.

In cases of autoimmune disease, the outcome depends on the underlying condition. These are often chronic illnesses that need long-term medical care.

Possible Complications

Complications may include:

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

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if your child has back pain that does not go away, or problems with standing and walking that seem unusual for the child's age.

Alternative Names

Disk inflammation

References

Camillo FX. Infections and tumors of the spine. In: Azar FM, Beaty JH, Canale ST, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 42.

Hong DK, Gutierrez K. Diskitis. In: Long S, Prober CG, Fischer M, eds. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 78.

Review Date 8/15/2018

Updated by: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.