Meningeal compression could be caused by an encroachment or twisting on the three-membrane protective covering of the spinal cord and brain, called the meninges.
This intrusion might be from a tumor or other malformation, but it most often is caused by a change in the cervical spine, which can reduce or distort the space through which the spinal cord and meninges must pass.
Any tugging on the meninges can have devastating effects on this critical and sensitive nerve action, which, in turn, can produce a galaxy of undesirable symptoms.
We believe this compression creates or contributes to myriad symptoms and conditions, including:
- Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD)
- Brachia neuralgia
- Trigeminal neuralgia
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Restless leg syndrome
- Unexplained diffuse pain
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
What do the meninges do?
The meninges are a three-part sheath of membranes that, along with the cerebrospinal fluid, cover and protect the central nervous system.
The outermost part of the meninges, closest to the skull, is a thick, durable membrane called the dura mater. Its two layers form the outermost meningeal sac that covers the inner membranes and supports the larger blood vessels that carry blood from the brain back to the heart. The dura mater is attached to the skull and the bones that form the vertebral canal.
The middle membrane is called the arachnoid because of its spider-web structure. It serves to cushion the central nervous system.
The innermost membrane is the pia mater, a very thin, delicate envelope that is firmly attached to the surface of the brain and spinal cord. The space between the arachnoid and pia mater is filled with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which brings nutrition and healing to the brain and spinal cord.
What is meningeal compression?
Because the meninges are attached to all of the nerves that pass through them, going out to the rest of the body and back to the brain, and serve as a protective covering and conduit for the brain and spinal cord, it is both a vital and vulnerable junction of the body’s neurological system.
Nerve roots are extensions of the spinal cord that turn and exit between each vertebra, sending and receiving impulses that control virtually the entire body, even the smallest parts. Since these nerves pass through the meninges, naturally it follows that every bodily system can be affected by the pulling of the meninges. These nerve roots also extend fibers to the brain, which transmit impulses that are then received as pain, burning, itching, heat, cold, tingling, numbness and many other parasthesias (that is, odd feelings).
The pulling and irritation of these nerve roots causes nerve fibers to fire maverick impulses to the brain. The brain interprets these fired impulses as pain, itching, burning, coldness, numbness or other odd feelings. The body, in response to stimuli from irritation, will often twitch or spasm, thus prompting the restless leg syndrome, muscle tightness and spasms often experienced by fibromyalgia patients.
Typically, irritation of the nerve roots, when it hits levels that are diagnosed as fibromyalgia, bombards the sufferer’s brain, overwhelming the autonomic and sensory pathways, keeping them in pain, awake at night, fatigued and depressed.
The symptoms of possible meningeal compression may vary from person to person. They may be debilitating — as in a severe case of RSD or fibromyalgia — or be less severe in a milder case of fibromyalgia, mild facial pain or trigeminal neuralgia. Because the nervous system controls the entire body and can affect all the systems, meningeal compression can cause an almost limitless number of symptoms In a very wide range.
Here, then, is a partial list:
- Insomnia: Insomnia is particularly troubling in almost all fibromyalgia patients. It could become worse in relation to the degree of pressure on the meninges. The anxiety, the pain, the overactive central nervous system and adrenaline overproduction make sleep almost impossible.
- Fatigue: Fatigue naturally goes along with insomnia, but it is a level of fatigue that goes well beyond what would be expected with ordinary insomnia, and it has a much deeper impact.
- Emotional instability, depression, irritability and nervousness: These symptoms are often the most difficult to deal with, since they affect the very core of the being and destroy joy and enthusiasm. Life becomes miserable for the sufferer as well as for those around him or her.
- Mild-to-severe body pain: This can take many forms – headaches, pressure at the base of the skull, neck pain, arm pain, torso pain, hip pain, thigh pain, leg pain, numbness, facial pain, etc. Often, these symptoms are worse in the morning and evening than at other times of day.
- Headaches: Usually, there is pressure at the base of the skull, and there is sometimes associated pain in the occipital region (back side) of the skull and upper cervical spine (neck). Many patients have severe, migraine-type headaches. Fibromyalgia-related headaches may vary in location and intensity. Almost every possible combination has been reported —unilateral, bilateral, facial, occipital, mild, severe — sometimes accompanied with nausea and vomiting.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome: This is present in most sufferers and may be caused by the sympathetic nervous system firing constantly, preventing the parasympathetic nervous system from controlling digestion. Its constant firing may increase adrenaline production and bring with it a feeling of foreboding, gloom and impending doom. The parasympathetic system works well when we are relaxed and controls things like food digestion and normal, relaxed bodily functions.
- Rashes: Some people will develop rashes on the legs, arms, face, back or other areas. Such rashes are common and almost always go away with treatment.
- Trigeminal neuralgia: Observations suggest that the tugging on the trigeminal nerve as it exits through the meninges can trigger this symptom. Trigeminal neuralgia is characterized by facial pain, often lancing — usually severe, though it can be mild. Patients who have this condition often respond well to treatment.
- Calcium deposits under the skin: These are common, usually under pea size, but some have been reported to be much larger. They can be very painful and even cause bleeding, in rare cases.
- Communication problems: These are common. Symptoms of this sort generally suggest a severe case. Patients are this ill are unable to answer questions or stay focused on the particular subject for very long at a time. This lack of focus usually abates in the first two weeks of treatment.
- Anxiety: Anxiety is often one of the most severe problems associated with conditions caused by meningeal compression. Many patients don’t even realize they have anxiety until it is pointed out. Anxiety can be brought on by the sympathetic nervous system firing continuously and can push a person to push on through exhaustion and pain. However, anxiety also prevents sleep and rest, so it can create a degenerative cycle. Panic attacks – extreme and often unexpected physical (for example, hyperventilation or a racing heart rate) and emotional (for example, hysteria or irrationality) expressions of the body’s inherent “fight or flight” response mechanisms — are common. When anxiety disappears, patients often become very tired and are able to experience restorative sleep, which can lead to marked improvement.
- Glandular problems: All of the glands of the body can be affected (i.e.: the pituitary, the thyroid, the adrenals, the reproductive glands, the pancreas, etc.). Malfunction in these glands can create a host of physical problems, as well as mental and emotional problems. This is why balancing hormones give a person a boost.
- RSD or CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome): This is a complex and, until recently, misunderstood problem usually associated with an accident or a surgery. After the event, the body part involved will continue to display pain and often circulatory problems. The pain can be excruciating.