Noncommunicating syringomyelia occurs as a complication of trauma, meningitis, hemorrhage or tumor, the cyst or syrinx developing in a segment of the spinal cord damaged by one or more of these conditions. I can find no reports that damage from a decompression accident has been related as a cause. This condition is not mentioned in Edmonds’ or Bove’s texts – so one will have to use associative reasoning – as we often do about situations such as this.

As the body moves in it’s day to day activities the syrinx or cyst expands and elongates over time, destroying the center of the cord, and can mimic the effects of a spinal decompression accident. This damage may result in pain, weakness, and stiffness in the back, shoulders, arms or legs. Other symptoms may include headaches and loss of the ability to feel extremes of hot or cold, especially in the hands and disruption in body temperature,sweating, sexual function and bladder and bowel control.

Because of the difficulties in differentiating between the residual effects of a diver’s decompression accident and the effects of the syrinx – it is felt that diving would be unwise unless carefully documented and evaluated on an individual basis.

Since the cyst is fluid filled – there would be no changes relative to the effects of ambient changes in pressure from depth. However, it is thought that there is an increased risk for a decompression accident in association with alterations in blood supply in the cord from inflammatory processes, previous injuries and bony damage from trauma.


Ernest S. Campbell, M.D., FACS

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