Tremors are involuntary shaking movements in one or several parts of the body. These abnormal movements happen because of muscle contractions.
A problem in the part of the brain that controls movements typically causes tremors. Neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and traumatic brain injury can also be responsible. Other possible causes of tremors include anxiety, an overactive thyroid, alcohol use disorder, and certain medications. However, in many cases, doctors are unable to identify the cause.
Most sources do not list spinal problems as a potential cause of tremors. However, there are rare reports of tremors in people with spinal cord compression.
Keep reading to learn more about the links between spinal problems and tremors, the potential treatment options, and when to see a doctor.
It is rare for a spinal problem to cause tremors, but there are some reports of individuals with spinal cord compression experiencing tremors.
In one report, a 91-year-old man developed tremors secondary to spinal cord compression in the neck, which doctors refer to as cervical myelopathy. The man experienced tremors in both of his arms and legs, which progressed rapidly over 2 weeks, leaving him unable to feed himself and walk without support.
Doctors initially thought that the man had Parkinson’s disease, but they later dismissed this diagnosis as he had no other typical symptoms. An MRI scan showed that the man had a herniated disk at vertebrae C3–C4 in his neck.
A condition called cervical dystonia may also cause tremors. This rare neurological disorder begins in the brain and causes involuntary muscle contractions in the neck. These contractions may be continuous, or they may present as spasms that can resemble tremors. The severity of the condition varies, but it can cause significant pain and abnormal posture, both of which can affect quality of life.
Tremors are bodily movements that a person cannot control. These involuntary muscle contractions most often affect the hands, but they can also involve the arms, hands, head, trunk, legs, feet, or facial muscles.
Tremors affect people differently. They can:
- be mild or severe
- affect one or both sides of the body
- come and go or occur continuously
- happen on their own or occur in response to another issue
The types of tremor include:
- Essential tremor: Doctors may call this benign essential tremor. It is the most common tremor, and it results from problems in the nervous system. Typically, it affects the hands, but it may also affect the head, tongue, voice, legs, and trunk.
- Dystonic tremor: Individuals with dystonia may develop this movement disorder. Dystonia is an involuntary muscle contraction that causes abnormal posture. People may experience twisted and repetitive movements that can affect any muscle in the body.
- Parkinsonian tremor: People with Parkinson’s disease may experience this tremor. It often involves one or both hands while resting but can affect the face and legs.
Issues with the back and neck that compress these nerves may affect how they communicate, potentially leading to tremors. However, this is uncommon, and there are very few reports of people experiencing tremors due to spinal problems.
The cause of tremor-related back issues may determine the treatment options.
In the case of disk herniation, doctors may recommend surgery. A surgeon may perform a procedure called an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) to manage the condition. An ACDF first involves removing the abnormal, bulging part of the disk that presses on the nerves in the spinal cord. The next step is to fuse the bones to prevent them from rubbing against each other.
Doctors cannot cure cervical dystonia. However, they may recommend one or a combination of three treatment options:
Botulinum toxin (Botox) injections
A doctor injects this neurotoxin into the neck muscles in small doses. It prevents the nerves from releasing messengers that cause muscle contractions.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently does not approve any oral medications. However, doctors may recommend the following to ease symptoms:
- dopaminergic agents, such as levodopa
- anticholinergic agents, such as benztropine
There are two surgical options. The first involves cutting the nerves to the dystonic muscles, but this may result in side effects and a long recovery.
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is another option. DBS involves a surgeon placing electrodes into a specific area of the brain called the globus pallidus. Stimulators then send tiny electrical pulses to the brain, improving dystonic movements.
People will likely find it challenging to prevent tremors due to spinal problems. For example, cervical spondylotic myelopathy arises from the typical degenerative changes that occur in the spine as people age, and tremors are common among older adults.
People can help avoid herniated disks by reducing excessive strain on the spine and minimizing the risk of injuries. However, disk material naturally degenerates with the aging process, and even minor strains or twisting movements can cause ruptured disks.
With cervical dystonia, doctors often do not know the cause or how to prevent it. However, researchers have identified associated gene mutations, as up to 25% of individuals have a family history of the condition.
Anyone who develops tremors should contact a doctor to get a diagnosis and rule out any serious causes.
The doctor will begin the diagnostic process by performing a physical and neurological examination to assess the tremor. They will also take the individual’s medical history. They may then order medical tests, such as diagnostic imaging to assess brain and spinal damage and an electromyogram to diagnose muscle and nerve problems.
Based on the findings of these tests, they can recommend the most suitable treatment.
Tremors are involuntary shaking movements that can affect the limbs, trunk, or facial muscles. Spinal problems rarely cause tremors. However, if the spinal cord is compressed, this affects how the nerves communicate and could lead to tremors.
The treatment for tremor-related back issues may depend on the cause, but it can include surgery, injections, and medication.
People can reduce their risk of developing tremors from spinal problems by avoiding placing excessive strain on their spine and being aware of potential injuries.
Anyone who experiences tremors should consult a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment.