Tophaceous gout of the spine mimicking epidural infection: case report and review of the literature

Neurosurgery. 2001 May;48(5):1170-2; discussion 1172-3. doi: 10.1097/00006123-200105000-00046.


Objective and importance: Tophaceous gout uncommonly affects the axial skeleton. The clinical presentations of gout of the spine range from back pain to quadriplegia. Gout that presents as back pain and fever may be difficult to distinguish from spinal infection. We present a case of a patient with tophaceous gout of the lumbar spine who was initially diagnosed with and treated for an epidural infection. The clinical and diagnostic features of tophaceous gout of the spine are reviewed.

Clinical presentation: A 70-year-old man presented with a 2-day history of fever and back pain. A physical examination revealed that he had flank tenderness and evidence of polyarthritis affecting the elbows, knees, and right first metatarsophalangeal joint. A magnetic resonance imaging scan of the patient's lumbar spine showed an extensive area of abnormal gadolinium enhancement of the paramedian posterior soft tissues from L3 to S1 with an area of focal enhancement extending into the right L4-L5 facet joint.

Intervention: A laminectomy was performed at L4-L5, and a chalky white material in the facet joint was found eroding into the adjacent pars intra-articularis. Light and polarizing microscopy confirmed the presence of gouty tophus. No evidence of infection was found.

Conclusion: Gouty arthritis of the spine is rare. Thirty-seven previous cases have been reported. When the clinical presentation includes acute back pain and fever, differentiation of spinal gout from spinal infection may be difficult. The clinical suspicion of spinal gout may lead to the correct diagnosis by a less invasive approach than exploration and laminectomy.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Epidural Space*
  • Gout / diagnosis*
  • Gout / surgery
  • Humans
  • Infections / diagnosis*
  • Laminectomy
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Spinal Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Spinal Diseases / surgery