Spinal infections in children: a review

Int Orthop. 2012 Feb;36(2):387-95. doi: 10.1007/s00264-011-1388-2. Epub 2011 Oct 28.


Spondylodiscitis affects children aged between two and eight years, and mainly involves the lumbar or lumbosacral spine. Diagnosis is difficult because the symptoms are not very specific and due to the children's difficulty in communicating. Unlike adults, children have vascularised intervertebral discs, which explains the higher incidence of this disease in this age group. C-reactive protein, and blood and urine cultures are important laboratory tests. In most cases, fine needle or traditional biopsy helps identify the pathogen particularly in patients who do not respond to the antibiotic therapy test. Magnetic resonance imaging has high sensitivity and specificity in the investigation of pyogenic infection of the spine, particularly in the early stages, when these changes are not shown in other imaging tests. X-rays can take up to six weeks to show changes. The first radiographic sign of infection is the irregularity of the vertebral endplates in the infection area, followed by their erosion and that of the adjacent bone, decreased disc space, segmental collapse, loss of lordosis (in cases of low back involvement) and ultimately, permanent structural deformity. After eight to twelve weeks, local regeneration occurs, accompanied by bone sclerosis arising from the formation of new trabecular bone, replacing the necrotic cancellous bone. Effective treatment often leads to bone fusion of the affected disc space. However, when no therapy is adopted, total vertebral collapse can occur. The treatment involves immobilisation, antibiotic therapy, and surgical decompression in more advanced cases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Decompression, Surgical
  • Discitis / diagnosis*
  • Discitis / diagnostic imaging
  • Discitis / surgery
  • Discitis / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Immobilization
  • Intervertebral Disc / pathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Physical Examination
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed