Low back pain affects millions of people.  In rare cases, severe back pain can be a sign of cauda equina syndrome (CES), a condition that usually requires urgent surgical treatment.  People with cauda equina syndrome often are admitted to a hospital as a medical emergency.  The following is some useful information concerning cauda equina syndrome.

What is Cauda Equina Syndrome?

Cauda equina syndrome is a rare disorder that requires emergency surgery.  In patients with CES, something compresses on the spinal nerve roots.  You may need fast treatment to prevent lasting damages leading to incontinence and possibly permanent paralysis of the legs.

CES affects a bundle of nerve roots called cauda equina (Latin for horse’s tail).  These nerves are located at the lower end of the spinal cord in the lumbar spine.  They send and receive messages to and from your legs, feet and pelvic organs.

Causes of Cauda Equina Syndrome

CES occurs more often in adults than in children.  But it can occur in children who have a spinal birth defect or have had a spinal injury.

These are the most common causes of cauda equina syndrome:

A spinal infection, inflammation, hemorrhage, or fracture.

A complication from a severe lumbar spine injury such as a car crash, fall, gunshot or stabbing.

A birth defect such as an abnormal connection between blood vessels (arteriovenous malformation).

A severe ruptured disk in the lumbar area (the most common cause).

Narrowing of the spinal canal (stenosis).

A spinal lesion or tumor.

Symptoms of Cauda Equina Syndrome

Cauda equina syndrome can be hard to diagnose.  Symptoms vary and may come on slowly.  They also mimic other conditions.  If you have any of these symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately:

Severe low back pain.

Pain, numbness, or weakness in one or both legs that causes you to stumble or have trouble getting up from a chair.

Loss of or altered sensations in your legs, buttocks, inner thighs, backs of your legs, or feet that is severe or gets worse and worse.  You may experience this as trouble feeling anything in the areas of your body that would sit in a saddle (called saddle anesthesia).

Recent problem with bladder or bowel function, such as trouble eliminating urine or waste (retention) or trouble holding it (incontinence).

Sexual dysfunction that has come on suddenly.

Diagnosing Cauda Equina Syndrome

A doctor should be able to diagnose CES.  A doctor may need the following to make this diagnosis:

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, which uses magnetic fields and computers to produce three-dimensional images of your spine.

A myelogram – an X-ray of the spinal canal after injection of contract material, which can pinpoint pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.

A computed tomography (CT) scan.

A medical history, in which you answer questions about your health, symptoms and activity.

A physical exam to assess your strength, reflexes, sensation, stability, alignment, and motion.  You may also need blood tests.

Treating Cauda Equina Syndrome

If you have cauda equina syndrome, you are probably wondering about treatment, recovery, and the long-term prognosis or outcome.

You’ll need prompt treatment to relieve pressure on nerves.  Surgery must be done quickly to prevent permanent damage, such as paralysis of the legs, loss of bladder and bowl control, sexual function, or other problems.  It is best if this occurs within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.  Depending on the cause of you CES, you may also need high doses of corticosteroids to help.

Even with treatment, you may not recover full function.  It depends on how much damage has occurred.  If surgery is successful, you may continue to recover bladder and bowel function over a period of years.

Living With Cauda Equina Syndrome

If permanent damage has occurred, surgery cannot always repair it.  Your cauda equina syndrome may become chronic.  You will need to learn ways to adapt to changes in your body’s functioning.  You’ll find that both physical and emotional support is essential.

If you or a loved one believes a doctor has failed to properly diagnose or treat your cauda equina syndrome, then please contact the Shelton Law Group at (888) 761-7204 or (502) 409-6460, or visit www.robsheltonlaw.com.  We will work with you to ascertain whether you have a viable claim resulting from a failure to provide appropriate care and treatment.