Pia mater overview

The pia mater is one of three membrane layers surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Together, these membranes are called the meninges.

The outermost and toughest layer of the meninges is the dura mater, which is farthest away from the brain and spinal cord. The middle layer is the arachnoid mater, which is followed by a layer of cerebrospinal fluid. The pia mater is the innermost layer of the meninges and attaches directly to the brain and spinal cord.

Anatomy of the pia mater

The term pia mater literally means tender mother. It gets this name because it is a thin, delicate layer of the meninges that is still very protective. The membrane has a mesh-like consistency and is anchored directly to the brain by a sheet of flat, star-shaped cells called astrocytes that help maintain homeostasis, or the regulation of the brain and spine’s internal environment. The pia mater is anchored to the spine through a series of small ligaments. The roles of the pia mater include:

  • Supplying blood to the brain and supporting blood vessels, referred to as vascularization
  • Aiding in production of cerebrospinal fluid
  • Enveloping and protecting the brain

A healthy pia mater is a critical part of the central nervous system, but like any part of the body there are conditions that can affect it.

Conditions affecting the pia mater

One of the problems that can happen with the pia mater is meningitis, which is when this meningeal layer becomes inflamed, often because of an infection with bacteria, viruses or some other microorganism. Because the pia mater is so directly connected to the most important and vulnerable parts of our body — the brain and spinal cord — meningitis is a serious, life-threatening emergency. Symptoms can include neck stiffness, headaches or loss of consciousness. Usually, a sample of cerebrospinal fluid is used to test for meningitis.

Additionally, the nerve roots that branch off the spinal cord are so close to the pia mater that any constriction of these roots can affect this membrane. If your physician has diagnosed you with a condition that inhibits nerve function in the spinal column, such as herniated discs, bone spurs, bulging discs, degenerative disc disease or foraminal stenosis, treatment usually begins conservatively. Typical options include mild exercise, physical therapy, chiropractic work, anti-inflammatory medications and epidural steroid injections. Surgery usually becomes an option when a full course of conservative treatment isn’t able to bring pain relief and a return to full activity.

If you are exploring surgery for a degenerative spine condition but are concerned about the risks and difficulties that come with a traditional procedure, reach out to Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive spine surgery is an alternative to traditional procedures that offers patients a shorter recovery time^ and less risk of complication.

Contact us today for a no-cost MRI review* to see if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures that have helped more than 75,000 patients find relief from neck and back pain.