Discitis is a rare yet potentially serious infection which develops in 1-2% of patients following spinal surgery, and which occurs in one or more spaces between the vertebrae that usually act as a cushion (discs) between bones. People of all ages are at risk, yet the prognosis for recovery varies with age. More often, in children under the age of eight, it is likely to resolve on its own. In adults, it can also spontaneously resolve, yet in severe cases it can cause osteomyelitis (infection of the bone marrow), an epidural abscess (infected area in the outer layer of the spinal cord), or life-threatening sepsis (a dangerous autoimmune response to infection).
Symptoms usually present themselves within a week of surgery, resulting in intense pain in the lower back or neck. When caught early, discitis usually responds to oral or IV antibiotics, along with minimal movement of the affected area to limit its spread and promote healing. If an abscess develops, it may need to be surgically drained and treated. Osteomyelitis and sepsis require more aggressive medical intervention.