Atraumatic thoracic spinal fracture mimicking herpes zoster
Intercostal neuralgia is most common in patients with herpes zoster, but it might be the initial symptom of serious diseases, such as atraumatic spinal fracture, which may lead to serious consequences if not diagnosed and treated early. Severe intercostal neuralgia is rarely reported as the first symptom of ankylosing spondylitis with atraumatic vertebral fractures.

A 70-year-old Chinese Han man previously diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis presented to the hospital with intense intercostal pain without trauma. The patient was initially suspected of having herpes zoster neuralgia; however, he subsequently experienced numbness and weakness of both lower limbs as well as constipation.

Thoracic vertebral fracture and compression of the spinal cord were detected with magnetic resonance imaging, and he underwent emergency posterior thoracic spinal canal decompression, and intercostal neuralgia was relieved after surgery. Spinal tuberculosis and tumors were later excluded by pathological examination and follow-up results. A 6-month postoperative follow-up showed that the weakness and numbness of the left lower limb had significantly improved, and his urinary function had recovered.

Conclusively, patients with ankylosing spondylitis could develop atraumatic spinal fractures. Severe intercostal neuralgia is an early indicator of spinal fractures, and spinal magnetic resonance imaging is crucial for the diagnosis.