What is Cauda Equina Syndrome?

Cauda equina syndrome is an uncommon but serious condition where the nerves in the lower back, called the cauda equina, become seriously compressed. Typically, although not always, it occurs from a disc bulge in the lower back. Other causes can include congenital conditions involving the spine, narrowing of the canal in which the nerves lie, spinal cord infections or tumours, or traumatic injury to the low back.

Symptoms include:

  • Leg pain on both sides
  • Severe weakness or numbness in both legs which may worsen around your genitals or anus
  • Finding it difficult to initiate urination, you cannot urinate or have no control over when you urinate – and this isn’t typical for you
  • You don’t notice when you want to defecate or have no control over when you defecate – and this isn’t typical for you

Cauda equina Syndrome requires immediate medical attention at the hospital and may require an emergency decompression surgery. If intervention of this condition is delayed, the likelihood of permanent paralysis and incontinence drastically increases. So, if you experience any of these symptoms, do not hesitate to visit A&E.

How common is Cauda Equina Syndrome?

The prevalence in the general population varies from about 1 in 32,000 to 1 in 100,000 people.

What happens if your doctor suspects you have Cauda Equina Syndrome?

If you report symptoms of Cauda Equina Syndrome to your doctor, you will probably be referred for imaging of the area. This can include Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), Computer tomography (CT) or Myelogram (an x-ray of the spine after contrast dye is injected into the body). Careful diagnosis is important to prevent unnecessary surgery.

Do I need to worry that I have Cauda Equina Syndrome if I have low back pain?

Not necessarily! If you have low back pain, book yourself in to see a specialist such as a chiropractor, osteopath, or physiotherapist. They will be able to assess your issue and help you to understand where you pain is coming from and how to improve it. However, if you have any of the previously mentioned symptoms, it is important to get to A&E as soon as possible.

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