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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Physician Brandon Yew and Dr Jessica Gunawan on August 8, 2022

What Is Transverse Myelitis And How Do You Treat It?

Some people will fully recover from transverse myelitis while others may become permanently disabled. Learn more about this mysterious inflammatory condition that affects your spinal cord here.

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Transverse myelitis is a rare disease that occurs when there is inflammation on both sides of one part of the spinal cord. It can lead to concerning symptoms, such as being unable to feel or control the lower part of your body.

While some people may recover within a few weeks or months, others may suffer long-term. Luckily, there are things you can do at home to manage symptoms and help speed up the recovery process.

Read on to learn more about this mysterious condition, what causes it, and how to manage it.

What Is Transverse Myelitis?

Transverse myelitis occurs when there is inflammation on both sides of one part of your spinal cord, preventing the spinal cord from sending out messages to the rest of the body.

How would it feel to suddenly lose sensations and functions of the lower part of your body? Alarming, isn’t it? These are common symptoms of transverse myelitis – a rare, albeit debilitating neurological disease affecting the spinal cord.

Transverse myelitis occurs when the spinal cord gets inflamed on both sides. Essentially, the condition interrupts messages that the spinal cord nerves send throughout the body. As a result, there is weakness, loss of sensations, and dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system in parts of the body that lie below the spinal lesion.

The disabilities may last for three to six months but may be permanent in some people. Approximately one-third of the patients recover with no disabilities, one-third recover with some disability, and the rest are permanently disabled. 

Causes

The basic pathology behind transverse myelitis is inflammation of the covering surrounding the nerve cells in the spinal cord, also called the myelin sheath.

As a result, messages conveyed by the brain don’t get relayed to regions beyond the spinal cord lesion to the lower parts of the body. The inflammation may occur due to various causes such as infections, immune system disorders, and multiple sclerosis. However, in a majority of cases, there may be no definite cause for the illness.

Infectious agents like enteroviruses, herpes viruses, Cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, HIV, Varicella Zoster, and Zika virus are known to cause the condition. Bacterial infections responsible for transverse myelitis include syphilis, Lyme disease, tuberculosis, mycoplasma pneumonia, and bacterial skin infections.

Transverse myelitis has also been associated with many autoimmune diseases like ankylosing spondylitis, rheumatoid arthritis, sarcoidosis, scleroderma, Sjogren’s syndrome, and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). 

Symptoms

Transverse myelitis symptoms may appear suddenly over a few hours or progressively over a few days or weeks. They usually occur on both sides of the body but sometimes may appear on one side only (this is more common in people with multiple sclerosis). Symptoms of transverse myelitis include: 

  • Pain: Patients generally experience a sharp pain in the lower back that may shoot down the leg, arms, chest, or abdomen. The location of the pain depends on the level at which the spinal cord is involved. 
  • Abnormal sensations: Some patients experience numbness, tingling, burning, or cold sensations on the affected parts. These may be brought on by extreme sensitivity to touch or temperature. 
  • Weakness of arms or legs: Patients may experience heaviness and inability to move their arms or legs. At times, patients also suffer total paralysis of the limbs. 
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control: As the spinal cord controls the involuntary movements of the bladder and bowel, any damage to it may cause loss of this control. Patients may have the urge to pass urine more frequently, urinary incontinence, difficulty passing urine, and constipation

If you experience any of the symptoms of transverse myelitis, you should immediately contact your doctor. Other serious diseases can cause similar symptoms, which need to be treated urgently.

How To Treat Transverse Myelitis

Treating transverse myelitis in Western Medicine involves treating infections, reducing inflammation, and relieving symptoms such as pain. One may also need to be treated for long-term complications, such as stiff muscles, painful spasms, depression, anxiety, and sexual disorders.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) also has therapeutic options which can help relieve the inflammation and symptoms when performed under the guidance of a registered practitioner. 

TCM physicians are trained to formulate treatment with herbal medications, acupuncture, moxibustion, cupping, blood-lettingguasha, and tuina according to the unique body constitution of every individual patient. 

Acupuncture 

You can reduce nerve inflammation through acupuncture, but it should only be performed by a licensed professional.

Acupuncture helps reduce nerve inflammation, stimulate healing and fasten the recovery of their functions. 

From a TCM perspective, Real Medical Senior Physician Brandon Yew explains that acupuncture unblocks the meridian channels by dispelling disease-causing agents, thereby restoring and enhancing qi (life force), blood circulation, and the functions of the vital organs. 

However, it’s best to seek the advice of a trained TCM practitioner as transverse myelitis is a complex medical condition.

Acupressure 

Acupressure is an easy self-help remedy that you can do at home. However, please take note that It helps with mild symptoms only.

Place your fingers or blunt object like a massage stick at specific acupoints mentioned below, and apply an appropriate amount of pressure to elicit a sensation of soreness or tenderness. Massage each acupoint with clockwise and anticlockwise circular motion 20 times each. Repeat for at least three minutes per acupoint.

The acupoints that Physician Yew suggests might help relieve symptoms of transverse myelitis are:  

  • Bai Hui (DU20): Dispels localized pathogens to allow better qi and blood circulation for improved alertness, cognition, and mood.  
  • He Gu (LI4): Dispels pathogens and restores and enhances qi and blood circulation within the meridians. 
  • Nei Guan (PC6): Restores and enhances the Heart’s function for improved qi and blood circulation within the meridians.  
  • Dan Zhong (RN17): Dispels pathogens for better qi and blood circulation within the chest and revitalizes the functions of the Heart and Lungs. 
  • Zhong Wan (RN12): Dispels pathogens for improved qi and blood circulation within the upper abdominal cavity and revitalizes the Spleen’s function.  
  • Guan Yuan (RN4): Dispels pathogens for improved qi and blood circulation within the lower abdominal cavity and revitalizes the Kidney’s yang energy. 
  • Qi Hai (RN6): Dispels pathogens for improved qi and blood circulation within the lower abdominal cavity and revitalizes the Kidney‘s yang energy. 
  • Zu San Li (ST36): Dispels pathogens to improve qi and fluid circulation within the meridians and revitalizes the Spleen and Stomach. 
  • Feng Long (ST40): Dispels pathogens to improve qi and fluid circulation within the meridians; strengthens the stomach’s function.  
  • San Yin Jiao (SP6): Revitalises the functions of the Spleen, Liver, and Kidneys. 
  • Tai Xi (KI3): Revitalizes the Kidneys. 
  • Tai Chong (LR3): Dispels pathogens to improve qi and blood circulation within the meridians and revitalizes the Liver. 

Do take note that acupressure is not as effective as acupuncture. Thus, it is strongly recommended to receive acupuncture for better treatment outcomes.

Exercises 

Exercises like Qigong or tai chi also help improve the symptoms of transverse myelitis. However, starting slowly and scaling up as you improve is recommended to avoid injuries. Engaging a qualified instructor to minimize musculoskeletal strain injuries and other complications is best. 

Transverse myelitis is not life-threatening but can throw your life off balance. However, with natural therapies, you’ve got a good chance of making a complete recovery with no side effects. So if you know anyone suffering from the condition, advise them to look at traditional medicine options.

References

  1. Mayo Clinic. Transverse myelitis  
  2. Cleveland Clinic. Transverse myelitis 
  3. NIH. Transverse myelitis. 2022 

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