Tarlov cysts are abnormal sacs of spinal fluid that usually form around spinal root nerve fibers at the lower end of the spine, which is called the sacrum.
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The cause of a Tarlov cyst is unknown, but may be due to abnormal development of the nerve sheath.
Although gender may not be a risk factor, Tarlov cysts have more often been found in women than men.
Tarlov cysts may be linked to connective tissue disorders such as
systemic lupus erythematosus
Most of the time, Tarlov cysts do not cause symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they are associated with nerve root compression and may include:
- Pain in the lower back, buttocks, legs and feet, vagina, rectum, or abdomen
- Weakness, cramping, or numbness in the buttocks, legs, and feet
- Abnormal sensations in the legs and feet, or less commonly in the arms and hands
Nerve pain such as tingling or
- Loss of sensation on the skin
- Pain when coughing or sneezing
- Swelling, soreness, or tenderness around the lower end of the spine
- Pain when sitting or standing
- Bladder or bowel dysfunction
- Sexual dysfunction
- Pulling and burning feeling in the tailbone
- Loss of reflexes
If you have a Tarlov cyst, the following may cause it to become painful or cause other symptoms:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Depending on your symptoms, you may need to see a specialist. Your doctor will also look for other conditions that could be causing symptoms.
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:
If you are experiencing symptoms, talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options may include:
To relieve inflammation and/or pain:
- Over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Topical pain relievers that are applied to the skin
- Corticosteroid or other medicated injections
Other treatments may include:
- Aspiration of the cyst plus fibrin glue injection—a needle is used to drain the cyst and then a special glue is injected into the cyst to try to prevent it from filling again
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)—electrical impulses delivered through the skin
- Surgery to remove the cyst may be done for severe or worsening symptoms, bowel or bladder dysfunction, or if there is damage to the affected area
There are no current guidelines to prevent a Tarlov cyst.
Lucantoni C, Than K, Wang AC, et.al. Tarlov cysts: a controversial lesion of the sacral spine. Neurosurg Focus. 2011;31(6):E14.
Tarlov cyst information. Tarlov Cyst Disease Foundation website. Available at: https://www.tarlovcystfoundation.org/info. Accessed December 19, 2017.
Tarlov cysts. NORD—National Organization for Rare Disorders website. Available at: https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/tarlov-cysts. Accessed December 19, 2017.
Tarlov cysts. GARD—Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center website. Available at: https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/9258/tarlov-cysts/cases/27316. Accessed December 19, 2017.
Last reviewed November 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Last Updated: 12/19/2017