Spinal AVM (Arteriovenous Malformation)

Spinal arteriovenous malformation (AVM) refers to a group of conditions where there is a tangle of blood vessels in, on or around the spinal cord. The blood vessels didn’t form correctly, and there aren’t capillaries to transfer oxygen from the blood to the spine. Instead, blood flows from arteries directly to veins to resume its trip back to the heart.

This interruption of the normal blood flow robs the spinal cord of oxygen, leading cells to break down and die.

The knot of blood vessels also can press on the spinal cord, leading to disability, pain or other issues. An AVM rupture is a serious condition, as blood hemorrhages into the confined space of the spinal column. The blood can seep into nearby areas of the body and push on the spinal cord, causing damage.

An AVM can be anywhere in the body. Spinal AVMs often have no symptoms and are found while diagnosing or treating another condition.

The combined team of orthopedic spine and neuroscience specialists at Norton Leatherman spine has long experience treating spinal AVMs. Our physicians have the expertise and technology to diagnose and precisely identify the location of an AVM. You’ll get a customized plan of action for addressing your condition.

Spinal AVM Symptoms

If there are symptoms at all, they can be different from person to person and can depend on the severity and location of the tangle. Sometimes symptoms appear when the patient is in their 20s, although occasionally symptoms can appear in younger people.

Symptoms can appear suddenly or gradually and tend to worsen as the condition progresses. Common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty walking and climbing stairs
  • Numbness, tingling or pain in the legs
  • Sudden severe back pain
  • Weakness on one or both sides of the body
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control


Your specialist physician may perform a spinal angiogram, MRI, CT or other scan to show what the blood vessels look like and where the spinal vascular malformation is.

Depending on your condition, physicians have a range of treatments for a spinal AVM. They include:

  • Surgical removal is recommended in some cases.
  • Endovascular embolization closes the faulty blood vessels with a gluelike substance or other material. The procedure involves inserting a catheter into a blood vessel and threading it through your circulatory system until it reaches the AVM to seal it off.
  • Radiation therapy uses energy to seal off the abnormal vessels.
  • Medication is available for symptoms such as back pain.

About Norton Leatherman Spine

Norton Leatherman Spine is a combined team of orthopedic spine surgeons, neurosurgeons from Norton Neuroscience Institute and pain management specialists who provide care for adults and children from Louisville and Southern Indiana, as well as from across the region, nation and world.

  • The multidisciplinary team incorporates expertise from a variety of specialties to offer a comprehensive array of treatment options that include minimally invasive and nonsurgical therapies.
  • Our team approach to the diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of spine conditions works cooperatively with primary care physicians and other specialists to develop a treatment plan as unique as each individual.
  • Because you may not need surgery, you may work with our pain management team, physical therapy specialists and others who can create a care plan with the right types of treatments for you.
  • If you need surgery, you’re in experienced hands. Norton Leatherman Spine physicians perform more than 4,000 surgeries a year.
  • Our team has more than 45 specialists at nearly 20 offices across Louisville and Southern Indiana. Many offer same-day appointments and Saturday hours, with no referral needed
  • Our specialists are internationally recognized leaders in clinical research of spinal disease, injury and deformity, and have served in senior positions in the Scoliosis Research Society, the most prestigious organization for scoliosis surgeons around the world.
  • Norton Healthcare is the first health system in the nation to be recognized as an Advanced Orthopedic & Spine Center of Excellence by DNV.
  • We offer minimally invasive and robotic-assisted procedures that carry less risk and can speed your recovery.
  • We use the EOS Imaging system, which collects high-resolution images while exposing the patient to 50% to 85% less radiation than traditional X-rays and 95% less than basic CT scans. The system is especially beneficial to scoliosis patients who often need repeated imaging to monitor their progress.
  • Use MyNortonChart to communicate with your provider, manage appointments, refill prescriptions and more, anytime from a mobile device or computer

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