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What are Tarlov cysts and can they cause joint pain?

Q) In the last eight months I have had two MRIs, 10 blood tests, five x-rays and one ultrasound. I have pains in most joints of the body but no diagnosis of these pains except for my lower back. The hospital has told me I have osteoarthritis of the lower back. I noticed on my MRI summary report they say I have 'multiple Tarlov cysts' of no clinical significance. What are they and could they be causing pains in my joints?
Ruth, Solihull, West Midlands (Winter 2013)

A) Tarlov cysts are commonly found on MRI scans of the back. They are fluid-filled pouches that arise from nerves. They can grow quite large, and if they do they can cause back pain, but this is a rare cause of back pain and finding the cysts does not indicate a direct association with pain. I have seen very large cysts cause problems, and in these cases fluid can be removed from the cysts by needle aspiration. Tarlov cysts will not cause arthritic pain elsewhere in the body. Sometimes it is difficult to be absolutely sure of the cause of joint pain but really it is good news that tests have been normal and indicates a good outcome eventually.

This answer was provided by Dr Philip Helliwell for the Winter 2013 edition of our magazine, Arthritis Today, and was correct at the time of publication.

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