Q. I am 52 and in my 25th year as a T6-7 complete para. I have Harrington rods from T3 to T10. About a year ago I noticed I was leaning to the left side of my chair and couldn’t seem to sit straight. I also started hearing a grinding sound in my lower back, and my leg spasms increased to the point where it was interfering with my daily life.
My doctor ordered a set of spine X-rays and then a CT scan. She said the results showed that I had “Charcot’s arthropathy” and showed me my X-ray. It looked like half of my T12 and L1 vertebrae had disappeared — just vanished. Two weeks later I had surgery that included cutting and removing the lower part of my rods at T8 and adding new rods from T8 to L3. It was a big surgery — and so far so good, I’m sitting straight, and the grinding noise and muscle spasms are gone.
Prior to my diagnosis I had never heard of Charcot’s arthropathy and I’m still trying to wrap my head around what it is. How common is it among people with SCI? A year after I was injured I was going to have my rods removed. Would it have made any difference?
A. Charcot’s arthropathy (also called “Charcot joint”) is the progressive destruction caused by repeated trauma to a joint that doesn’t have sensation. When it occurs in the spine, often referred to as “Charcot spine,” it causes one or more vertebrae — below the level of fusion — to become progressively reabsorbed (disappear), which creates