Symptomatic secondary spinal arachnoid cysts: a systematic review

Spine J. 2023 Aug;23(8):1199-1211. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2023.03.002. Epub 2023 Mar 15.


Background context: Secondary spinal arachnoid cysts have rarely been reported but present significant challenges for management. These cysts could be anteriorly located with long rostral-caudal extensions and many are related to arachnoiditis, leading to difficult-to-treat disorders. Thus far, due to the scarcity of reports, the features of the disease and the optimal therapeutic strategies remain unclear.

Purpose: To investigate clinical features and the optimal treatment modalities of secondary spinal arachnoid cysts compared with primary spinal arachnoid cysts.

Study design: Systematic review.

Patient sample: Systematic review identified 103 secondary cases from 80 studies and reports.

Outcome measures: Condition of symptom relief and duration of treatment response were analyzed.

Methods: An electronic literature search of the PubMed database was conducted for studies on secondary spinal arachnoid cysts between 1990 and 2022. Non-English publications, nonhuman studies, reports of a primary cyst, studies not including case details, and studies of nonsymptomatic cases were excluded.

Results: This systematic review included 103 secondary cases. The most commonly reported etiologies were iatrogenic factors, trauma, and subarachnoid hemorrhage, accounting for 88 intradural extramedullary, 11 extradural, one intradural/extradural, one interdural, and one intramedullary spinal arachnoid cyst after a median duration of 30, 12, and 9 months, respectively. Extradural cysts were more prone to occur at dorsal locations and affect thoracic segments (mean cyst length: 3.4 segments). Intradural cysts showed a relatively higher ventral/dorsal ratio (1:1.09, 1.75:1, and 3.50:1 for cysts occurring from iatrogenic factors, trauma, and subarachnoid hemorrhage, respectively) and thoracic distribution, with a mean cyst length of 4.3 segments (5.1 for ventral and 3.5 for dorsal cysts). For intradural cysts, recurrence risk was lower after surgical resection than after fenestration/marsupialization (12-month recurrence risk: 21.43% vs 50.72%, log-rank test: p=.0248, Gehan-Breslow-Wilcoxon test: p=.0126). In cases treated with shunting, one recurrence (1/8 cases) was noted after external shunting and two recurrences (2/5 cases) after internal shunting at a median follow up of 12 months.

Conclusions: Secondary spinal arachnoid cysts, particularly intradural cysts, are rarer and more challenging to treat than primary spinal cysts. Although fenestration/marsupialization is the commonly adopted treatment, the recurrence rate is high. For unresectable cysts, shunting procedures, particularly shunting into a body cavity (eg, pleural or peritoneal cavity) away from the subarachnoid space, could be a therapeutic alternative besides fenestration/marupialization, yet its efficacy requires confirmation by more data.

Keywords: Arachnoiditis; Epidermoid cyst; Iatrogenic factor; Intradural spinal arachnoid cyst; Secondary spinal arachnoid cyst.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arachnoid Cysts* / complications
  • Arachnoid Cysts* / diagnostic imaging
  • Arachnoid Cysts* / surgery
  • Humans
  • Iatrogenic Disease
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / adverse effects
  • Neurosurgical Procedures / adverse effects
  • Spinal Cord Diseases* / diagnosis
  • Spinal Cord Diseases* / etiology
  • Spinal Cord Diseases* / surgery
  • Subarachnoid Hemorrhage* / complications
  • Subarachnoid Hemorrhage* / surgery