Spinal arachnoid cysts in adults: Diagnosis and management. A single-center experience

Maged D. Fam, Royce W. Woodroffe, Logan Helland, Jennifer Noeller, Nader S. Dahdaleh, Arnold H. Menezes, Patrick W. Hitchon*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Objective: Adult spinal arachnoid cysts (SACs) are rare entities of indistinct etiology that present with pain or myelopathy. Diagnosis is made on imaging studies with varying degrees of specificity. In symptomatic cases, the standard treatment involves surgical exploration and relief of neural tissue compression. The aim of this study was to illustrate features of SACs in adults, surgical management, and outcomes. Methods: The authors searched medical records for all SACs in adults in the 10-year period ending in December 2016. Radiology and pathology reports were reviewed to exclude other spine cystic disorders. Recurrent or previously treated patients were excluded. Demographic variables (age, sex) and clinical presentation (symptoms, duration, history of infection or trauma, and examination findings) were extracted. Radiological features were collected from radiology reports and direct interpretation of imaging studies. Operative reports and media were reviewed to accurately describe the surgical technique. Finally, patient-reported outcomes were collected at every clinic visit using the SF-36. Results: The authors' search identified 22 patients with SACs (mean age at presentation 53.5 years). Seventeen patients were women, representing an almost 3:1 sex distribution. Symptoms comprised back pain (n = 16, 73%), weakness (n = 10, 45%), gait ataxia (n = 11, 50%), and sphincter dysfunction (n = 4, 18%). The mean duration of symptoms was 15 months. Seven patients (32%) exhibited signs of myelopathy. All patients underwent preoperative MRI; in addition, 6 underwent CT myelography. SACs were located in the thoracic spine (n = 17, 77%), and less commonly in the lumbar spine (n = 3, 14%) and cervical/cervicothoracolumbar region (n = 2, 9%). Based on imaging findings, the cysts were interpreted as intradural SACs (n = 11, 50%), extradural SACs (n = 6, 27%), or ventral spinal cord herniation (n = 2, 9%); findings in 3 patients (14%) were inconclusive. Nineteen patients underwent surgical treatment consisting of laminoplasty in addition to cyst resection (n = 13, 68%), ligation of the connecting pedicle (n = 4, 21%), or fenestration/marsupialization (n = 2, 11%). Postoperatively, patients were followed up for an average of 8.2 months (range 2-30 months). Postoperative MRI showed complete resolution of the SAC in 14 of 16 patients. Patient-reported outcomes showed improvement in SF-36 parameters. One patient suffered a delayed wound infection. Conclusions: In symptomatic patients with imaging findings suggestive of spinal arachnoid cyst, surgical exploration and complete resection is the treatment of choice. Treatment is usually well tolerated, carries low risks, and provides the best chances for optimal recovery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)711-719
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neurosurgery: Spine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2018


  • Arachnoid cysts
  • Congenital
  • Meningeal cysts
  • Meningocele
  • Spinal cysts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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