About 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with a Chiari malformation—a structural defect at the base of the skull where brain tissue extends into the spinal canal. Often there typically are no symptoms, and the malformation is revealed when a diagnostic test is done for another reason.
With some types of Chiari malformation, it doesn’t appear until late childhood or when the person becomes an adult. Symptoms that can appear include:
- Neck pain
- Problems with balance or hand coordination
- Numbness and tingling in the hands or feet
- Dizziness or vision problems
- Speech problems
In some cases where symptoms interfere with quality of life, decompression surgery may be recommended to relieve pressure on the brain.
The intent of goal of Chiari Decompression surgery is to reduce the pressure on the spinal cord. The neurosurgeon makes an incision in the back of the skull to remove a piece of the skull. This may be enough to relieve the pressure. However, if further decompression is needed, additional tissue involving the “dura” is opened which covers and protects the brain and spinal cord. Most patients have relief from symptoms from the surgery.