Tarlov cysts are abnormal sacs of spinal fluid that usually form at the lower end of the spine (sacrum). What distinguishes Tarlov cysts is the presence of spinal nerve fibers either within the cyst wall or in the cyst.


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The cause of a Tarlov cyst is unknown but may be related to:

  • Trauma to the spine
  • Increase in cerebrospinal fluid pressure
  • Blockage of cerebrospinal fluid

Research has shown that the condition may be linked to connective tissue disorders (eg, lupus, Marfan syndrome). However, researchers are still studying this.

Once you have a Tarlov cyst, the following may cause it to become painful:

Risk Factors

Although gender may not be a risk factor, Tarlov cysts have more often been found in women than men.


Most of the time Tarlov cysts do not cause symptoms. Cysts may cause pain and other signs of nerve irritation, such as weakness or numbness. In some cases, it can cause problems with bladder and bowel function.

An increase in pressure in or on the cyst may increase symptoms and cause nerve damage. Symptoms can vary from person to person.

If you have any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to Tarlov cysts. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:

  • Bladder or bowel dysfunction
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Nerve pain
  • Pain in the lower back, buttocks, legs and feet, vagina, rectum, or abdomen
  • Pain when coughing or sneezing
  • Weakness, cramping, or numbness in the buttocks, legs, and feet
  • Swelling, soreness, or tenderness around the lower end of the spine (sacral area)
  • Abnormal sensations in the legs and feet
  • Sciatica symptoms, such as pain when sitting or standing
  • Headaches
  • The feeling of “sitting on a hard surface”
  • Pulling and burning feeling in the tailbone
  • Loss of sensation on the skin
  • Loss of reflexes


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. She will also do a physical exam. Depending on your symptoms, you may need to see a specialist, such as a neurosurgeon.

Tests may include the following imaging techniques:

  • MRI scan—a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside the body
  • CT scan—a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the body
  • Myelogram—an imaging test that uses a special dye to view the spinal cord
  • Aspiration of the cyst—a needle is used to take samples from the cyst


If you are experiencing symptoms, talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you.

Treatment options include:

  • Intramuscular corticosteroid injections or other medication injections—to relieve pain
  • Prescription medications—such as pain medications, antiseizure medications or antidepressants (both of these may be used to treat pain)
  • Lidoderm patches—applied to area of the spine where the cyst is located to provide temporary relief of pain and discomfort
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)—electrical impulses are delivered through the skin to help control pain
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Aspiration of the cyst plus fibrin glue injection—a needle is used to drain the cyst and then a special glue is used to prevent it from filling again

Surgery may be done if symptoms are severe and the cyst has caused pressure on a nerve or erosion of the spinal column bones.


There are no guidelines to reduce your risk of forming a Tarlov cyst. If you have a Tarlov cyst that does not cause pain, avoiding injury or heavy lifting may reduce your chance of developing pain.