Chiari Malformation

What is a chiari malformation?

A Chiari malformation is a rare condition in which part of your brain is pushed down into your spine. The condition can be serious, causing extra fluid to build up around your brain or a syrinx (a fluid-filled sac) to grow in your spine.

Normally, a lower part of your brain (called your cerebellum) sits where your head rounds back in and connects to your neck. If you have a Chiari malformation, this area of your skull may be too small or shaped incorrectly. This puts pressure on your cerebellum and forces it down toward the nerves of your spinal column.

Types of chiari malformation

People whose skulls are misshapen at birth have Chiari malformation type II. Other people may develop Chiari malformation type I as they grow, sometimes not showing symptoms until they are young adults. Injuries may also cause a Chiari malformation.

Symptoms of chiari malformation

Some people with Chiari malformation have no symptoms. Others can experience a wide range of problems, including:

  • Headaches
  • Neck pain
  • Back pain
  • Hoarseness
  • Trouble speaking or swallowing
  • Sleep apnea
  • Scoliosis
  • Trouble moving, walking or balancing
  • Poor reflexes

Diagnosis and testing for a chiari malformation

Doctors can diagnose a Chiari malformation with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography scans (CT scans). These tests don't take long and don't hurt.


Once your doctor diagnoses a Chiari malformation, you can work together to decide what treatment is right for you. If you have no symptoms, you may not have any treatments, but will have to keep an eye on your health. If you have minor symptoms, you may use medicines to control them, such as pain relievers or sleep apnea treatments. For more severe symptoms, your doctor may suggest surgery to remove part of your skull and relieve pressure on your brain. If you have a syrinx, it may also need to be removed through surgery.

Neurology Medical Management

Cranial Surgery



Pain in your spine can affect your whole range of movement and quality of life. Learn how Main Line Health specialists provide compassionate care for your spinal needs.


The neurology team at Main Line Health treats and manages conditions such as migraines, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and more.


Discover how Main Line Health neurosurgeons provide expert care, from routine to complex spinal and nervous system conditions for patients.