Discitis – Treatment, Symptoms, Pictures, Diagnosis, Causes

What is Discitis?

Discitis is also called as diskitis is an inflammation of vertebral disc space at the spine. These are uncommon problems that affect the different age groups but, most of the time it affects children 8 years old and below. Other times, this also happens as a complication of post spinal surgeries, but it only happens about 1-2% of the time.

The spine is made up of vertebra and it serves as the building blocks of the spinal area. The vertebra have bony prominences that act as a support for mobilization and at the same time protection of the spinal cord. The spinal cord is an essential organ since it is responsible for movements and even sensation.

Although the vertebra are bony, there are discs that and fibrous tissues above it to act as cushion when the person moves around. Sometimes, due to aging and other factors, it breaks or herniates causing infection, and other life threatening diseases.

Discitis Symptoms and Signs

There are noticeable symptoms related to discitis. This includes very severe back pain that leads to lack in mobility like walking. This is usually felt a week after a spinal surgery wherein the patient will feel lower back pain or even neck pain.  In children however, the severity of the back pain makes them refuse to move around and even bend their back.

Discitis Causes and Risk Factors

For post-operative discitis, physicians linked it with an aseptic technique either in preparation of the surgery or invasion of the skin flora into the vertebral area. Usually, before surgeries, the health care team should follow strict aseptic technique in order to avoid infection of the exposed area.  For instance, if staph aureus is able to penetrate into the spinal area, it can cause infection like discitis.

Other linked causes of Discitis also involve hematologic infection from the urinary or respiratory area. This means that the bacteria is able to go through the blood stream and travel into the vertebral area which leads to discitis.

Discitis Types

1. Septic discitis

This type of discitis is referred as the direct seeding of bacteria into the vertebral disk space. This is a rare type of discitis and it may be classified depending on its source if it is hematogenous, post-operative and contagious.  Most of the time, the bacteria responsible for Discitis is the S. aureus,  but it can also be due to other microorganisms like S. epidermidis, E. coli and others.

2. Infectious discitis

When the problem is associated with other signs and symptoms like fever, sweats, chills, loss of appetite and others. This is due to the invading microorganism on the vertebral space of the spinal column.

3. Lumbar discitis

This presents when the problem is at the lumbar area of the spinal column. Thus the discitis is self-limiting or does not infect other disc

4. Osteomyelitis discitis

Osteomyelitis is a common condition wherein it affects the bones through inflammatory process. Osteomyelitis may be chronic or acute. However, the bones that are affected is found in the vertebral area or in the spinal column, this is associated with osteomyelitis discitis and the causative agent are mostly microorganisms.

Discitis Diagnosis


Diagnostic tools for direct imaging of the spinal column or the vertebra are requested by the doctors. This includes MRI, plain or contrast x-rays and even CT scans.

Initially, the physician would suggest plan x-rays and they will see swelling of the vertebral area. To make sure about the correct diagnosis, physicians will request for MRI. The MRI shows some changes in the structure of the vertebral disc and even point out further involvement of other organs and surrounding tissues.

Blood sampling

Blood samples will also be taken to measure the white blood count of the patient.

Discitis Treatment

Complete Rest/Immobilization

The immediate care for Discitis is to give patients antibiotics and to immobilize or rest the patient. Rest is very well needed to promote recovery from the inflammation. Immobilization also gives the vertebrae the time to fuse in with the anatomical structure of the body. A 2-week complete bed rest is suggested by the doctors and when the patient moves out of bed, they need to wear back brace to assist them when moving around.

Bracing the back is suggested to be worn for 3-6 months and if the patient feels back pain, he or she needs to rest as soon as possible.

Antibiotic Treatment

On the other hand, antibiotic treatment is needed to kill the microorganism responsible for Discitis. Usually, physicians would suggest broad spectrum antibiotics if the blood samples for culture is not yet found out. Sometimes, IV antibiotics will be given for 6 to 8 weeks to effectively kill the microorganism but the health care team should also monitor the neurologic functions and the ESR rate of the patient.


There are only few and not life threatening complications of Discitis. This includes

  1. chronic back pain and
  2. neck pain. These are usually due to the side effects of the medications taken.


Discitis when treated properly have good prognosis to patients. The patients are cured with the combination of medications, rest and sometimes surgery of necessary. Only about 15% of the patients showed permanent neurological damage but it is not fatal.


Discitis pictures

Observe the redness in between the 2 vertebral disc space

Discitis pictures

Posted in Diseases & Conditions
3 comments on “Discitis – Treatment, Symptoms, Pictures, Diagnosis, Causes
  1. Rebecca says:

    I was diagnosed with osteomyelitis/discitis in the L3/4. After many months of going to several doctors, in and out of emergency rooms with excruciating back pain and spasms so bad I could not get up. No doctor I had been to did anything. They did not order up any type of xrays or scans. They just diagnosed me with back pain and sent me out the door with a prescription for physical therapy and NSAID’s. The pain and suffering continued. Until I found a spine specialist on my own that did not need a referral. The spine specialist immediately got in took xrays and ordered up an MRI which found the osteomyelitis/discitis. They figured I had this for at least 6 months. They got me admitted into the hospital immediately. I have permanent damage to my lower lumbar and discs because it was undiagnosed and untreated so long. I could of gone septic at anytime. My spine Dr. And bone infection Dr cannot believe i had not gone septic. I would not be here typing this if it wouldn’t of been for me taking the action on my own and finding a specialist that took me without a referral. I saw several Doctors and was in and out of the emergency room 3 times in a month. Nobody did anything. Here the whole time I had a life threatening illness that left I would of died. What is wrong with some medical facilities? They need to take back pain more seriously. They need to at least order up some images and take the patient seriously.

    • Traci says:

      I am going through this with my father now were at 63 he has been diagnosed but the treatment isn’t working the pain is getting worse, please advise.

  2. Stephen says:

    Back in April of 04 I had a Discogram performed on L4-L5,L5-S1, the Strange thing about this was this was done a day after I was involved in my 3rd accident in 1 yr and 2 months. 12 hours after this test I was in such excruciating back pain and having back spasms like I couldn’t explain , I was screaming so loud My neighbors who were in their backyard across the street heard me. I went back to the Doctor the Preformed the discogram and happened to have another one of those Fit’s in his office and he asked me what was wrong with me . This went on for 4 1/2 Months until my Attorney suggested I go and see a Doctor friend of His and the University of Pennsylvania ,When I went in for my appointment the Doctor I was to see experienced one of my Fit’s while I was in the Waiting room and took me right over to the Other Hospital of the University to another Doctor , where together after about 10 minutes they discovered I was suffering from osteomyelitis/discitis . They told me that my infection was from
    L4-L5,L5-S1 in my lumbar spine and was serious , They even tried to admit me the Hospital that night it was so bad . they let me leave that night to go home if I promised to come back by 9:30 am the next day and I did . I saw two doctors in the 4 1/2 months that I suffered with that excruciating back pain and having those Nasty back spasms ,and no one did anything to treat me but feed me with Bextra and Morphine and Oxycontin . These medications didn’t even make me comfortable and of course I wasn’t even given and antibiotics . IF it wasn’t for my Attorney suggesting seeing his doctor friend at the Univ of Penn who know’s what would have happened , after they cleared up the two infections I had to have a double fusion for other problems due to the Accidents and am now left disabled and my lower spine is falling apart . I am 51 now and the surgeons are telling me that I will most likely be in a Wheelchair by the time I reach 60 ,-65 at the latest . I’m still on Morphine 120mg a day and 60 mg of Oxycontin a day and am still in Very uncomfortable pain over top of that . I agree with Rebecca’s last three lines Wholeheartedly , My Pain Management doctor Tells me He doesn’t have time to look at film’s, and I only want stronger medication to Get High , I forgot to tell you I was another Accident (which would make my 4th in 2 1/2 years, none of which were my fault) In Your opinion DO You think I’m looking to Get High ? I would like to have a few days with Pain I can tolerate ,maybe even sleep through a whole night , something I haven’t done since February 21,2003 .

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