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Year : 2016  |  Volume : 11  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 172-173


Department of Neurosurgery, Ankara University Medicine School, Ibni Sina Hospital, Ankara, Turkey

Date of Web Publication1-Mar-2016

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Umit Eroglu
Ankara University, Medicine School, Ibni Sina Hospital, Ankara
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/1793-5482.175641

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The presence of air in spinal canal is called as “pneumorrhachis.” Nontraumatic, noniatrogenic spontaneous spinal air is an uncommon case. Peripheral alveoli burst due to the increased pressure in alveoli in the case of trauma, asthma, pneumothorax, or pneumomediastinum. Air pass to the mediastinum and then to retropharyngeal space and reaches to epidural space. In this paper, a 44-year-old female patient who has a spontaneous pneumorrhachis in the epidural space in the spinal canal L5-S1 lumbar level has been presented.

Keywords: Air, pneumorrhachis, spinal canal

How to cite this article:
Eroglu U, Yakar F, Zaimoglu M, Ozates O, Ozgural O, Ugur HC. Pneumorrhachis. Asian J Neurosurg 2016;11:172-3

How to cite this URL:
Eroglu U, Yakar F, Zaimoglu M, Ozates O, Ozgural O, Ugur HC. Pneumorrhachis. Asian J Neurosurg [serial online] 2016 [cited 2020 Jul 14];11:172-3. Available from:

  Introduction Top

Spontaneous pneumorrhachis (PR) is a very rare condition. Most studies and case reports have been indicated that spinal air syndromes have developed secondary to trauma, surgery, or disease. In general, they can be seen in cervical space and low frequency in thoracic and lumbar spinal space. In literature, most of the cases about the air in spinal canal is due to medical treatments, trauma, pneumothorax, or pneumomediastinum, and surgical procedures. In general, spontaneous resolution occurs so that conservative treatment is suggested. Lumbar and radicular pain has been reported although most of them are asymptomatic. There is still no algorithm for treatment. In this paper, a patient, who has a pain in the waist and leg, has been presented, with nontraumatic, noniatrogenic spontaneous PR.

  Case Report Top

A 44-year-old female patient was consulted for the waist and leg pain. Neurological examination was intact. The patient had a spinal computed tomography (CT) scan because of claustrophobia. In the spinal CT, the air pack was seen at the level of L5-S1 spinal extradural midline space [Figure 1]. It was seen that the air pack in the spinal canal compress the thecal sac anteriorly. The patient has no history of spinal trauma, surgical procedures, medical treatment, asthma, pneumothorax, or pneumomediastinum. The patient was treated with anti-inflammatory drugs and followed without any surgical procedures. At 3 months' follow-up, her pain reduced and the air pack volume decreased in axial tomography scan [Figure 2].
Figure 1: In axial tomography scan, the air pack that compressed the thecal sac has been seen

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Figure 2: The air pack volume reduced at 3 months' follow-up in axial tomography scan

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  Discussion Top

Air in the spinal canal was first defined by Gordon and Hardman in 1977.[1] The term of “PR” was first used in 1987. The presence of air in the disc is a common condition. This case is called vacuum phenomenon in degenerated discs was found as 20% by Gershon-Cohen et al.[2] PR can be classified internal (subarachnoid or subdural) and external (epidural). It is believed that external PR is innocuous. Internal PR is frequently associated with severe traumatic injury.[3]

However, spontaneous extradural spinal air is a very rare condition. There are theories related to air entering to the spinal canal have been described. According to Coulier, gas accumulated in degenerated disc reaches to the spinal space by finding a gap from annulus fibrosus.[4] From another perspective, according to Kim, the air in disc and microtrauma cause erosion in the annulus. This erosion serves as a pathway for spinal air.[5]

Peripheral alveoli burst due to the increased pressure in alveoli in the case of trauma, asthma, pneumothorax, or pneumomediastinum. Air pass to the mediastinum and then to retropharyngeal space and reaches to epidural space. In the study of Ford et al., it was seen that gas contains 90% extracellular components and nitrogen.[3] CT was accepted as a gold standard for demonstration of air in the spinal canal.[6]

In the absence of neurological deficits, follow-up of the patient with conservative treatment is possible. Bosser et al., proposed CT guided aspiration of air.[7] However, in our opinion, as long as the defect in the annulus is present, the recurrence of the air will occur. Spinal decompression may be an applicable surgical treatment.

  Conclusion Top

PR is often asymptomatic. The spontaneous air in the spinal canal is a very rare condition. However, when faced with such a situation, pneumothorax, infectious cases, and malignant conditions that can cause PR should definitely be investigated.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Gordon IJ, Hardman DR. The traumatic pneumomyelogram. A previously undescribed entity. Neuroradiology 1977;13:107-8.  Back to cited text no. 1
Gershon-Cohen J, Schraer H, Sklaroff DM, Blumberg N. Dissolution of the intervertebral disk in the aged normal; the phantom nucleus pulposus. Radiology 1954;62:383-7.  Back to cited text no. 2
Markus O, Marcus K, Marcus R, Timo K, Sandra T, Joachim G. Pathogenesis, diagnosis and management of pneumorrhachis. Eur Spine J 2006;5:636-43.  Back to cited text no. 3
Coulier B. The spectrum of vacuum phenomenon and gas in spine. JBR-BTR 2004;87:9-16.  Back to cited text no. 4
Kim CH. Pneumorrhachis and paraspinal air with vacuum disc: Case report and literature review. J Korean Neurosurg Soc 2007;42:490-1.  Back to cited text no. 5
Ford LT, Gilula LA, Murphy WA, Gado M. Analysis of gas in vacuum lumbar disc. AJR Am J Roentgenol 1977;128:1056-7.  Back to cited text no. 6
Bosser V, Dietemann JL, Warter JM, Granel de Solignac M, Beaujeux R, Buchheit F. L5 radicular pain related to lumbar extradural gas-containing pseudocyst. Role of CT-guided aspiration. Neuroradiology 1990;31:552-3.  Back to cited text no. 7


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2]

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