Chiari Malformation at OHSU Spine Center

Chiari malformation (or chiari syndrome) is brain tissue that pushes into the area around the spinal cord (spinal canal). It happens when part of the skull is smaller than usual or has an unusual shape. The skull presses on brain tissue and forces it down into the spinal canal.

Chiari malformation is usually present at birth (birth defect). The adult form develops as the skull and brain are growing. There may be no symptoms until late childhood or adulthood.

Causes of Chiari malformation

Chiari malformation is caused by:

  • Birth defect
  • Skull that does not grow normally   

Symptoms of Chiari malformation

Headaches are a common symptom of Chiari malformation. They can be severe. Sudden coughing, sneezing or straining (like lifting something heavy) can cause these headaches.  

Other symptoms include:

  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Trouble walking steadily 
  • Balance problems
  • Poor hand coordination
  • Numbness and tingling in hands and feet
  • Dizziness
  • Swallowing problems, gagging, choking and vomiting
  • Blurry vision or double vision
  • Trouble speaking clearly  
Less common symptoms are:
  • Ringing or buzzing in ears
  • Poor bladder control
  • Chest pain
  • Curvature of the spine (scoliosis)
  • Stopping breathing during sleep (sleep apnea)