Back Pain Home > Tarlov Cysts

Tarlov cysts are fluid-filled sacs often affecting nerve roots of bones at the base of the spine. Symptoms include lower back pain, sciatica, and some loss of feeling or movement in the leg and/or foot. The cysts can be drained to relieve pressure and pain, but this is temporary; fluid often builds up again. Only complete removal can cure the cysts.

What Are Tarlov Cysts?

Tarlov cysts are fluid-filled sacs that most often affect nerve roots in the sacrum, which are the group of bones at the base of the spine.

What Are the Symptoms?

Tarlov cysts can compress nerve roots, causing:
  • Lower back pain
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Some loss of feeling or control of movement in the leg and/or foot
  • Sciatica (shock-like or burning pain in the lower back, buttocks, and down one leg to below the knee).
Pressure on the nerves next to the Tarlov cysts can also cause pain. The cysts may become symptomatic following shock, trauma, or exertion that causes the buildup of cerebrospinal fluid. Women are at a higher risk of developing these cysts than men.
(Click Sciatica for more information about this form of back pain.)

Treatment Options

Tarlov cysts may be drained to relieve pressure and pain, but relief is often only temporary and fluid buildup in the cysts generally recurs. Corticosteroid injections may also temporarily relieve pain. Other drugs may be prescribed to treat chronic pain and depression, but filling the cysts with fat has not been shown to work. Injecting the cysts with fibrin glue (a combination of naturally occurring substances based on the clotting factor in blood) may provide temporary relief of pain.
Some scientists believe the herpes simplex virus, which thrives in an alkaline environment, can cause Tarlov cysts to become symptomatic. Making the body less alkaline, whether through diet or supplements, may lessen symptoms, but not always. Surgical resection may be needed when the cysts cause continued pain or progressive neurological damage.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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