What is cauda equina syndrome? causes, diagnosis and treatment

Cauda Equina Syndrome (CES) is a rare condition which is caused by a compression of the spinal nerve roots and is considered a medical emergency, so if you have a concern seek medical help immediately.

what is cauda equina syndrome?

Cauda Equina (CES) is the Latin word for horse tail and is a bundle of nerves and root nerves that originate in the lumbosacral region which are responsible for appropriate function of the  pelvic organs, legs and feet.

causes of cadua equina

Cauda Equina occurs much more commonly in adults but there are cases of this occurring in children who are born with spinal defects or those who have had a direct spinal injury. Here are the main causes of CES:

  • Cancer - Cancerous or malignant cells which arise within the lumbar spinal canal can heavily involve the vertebrae, the distal end of the spinal cord or nerve roots (cauda equina). Tumors can compress the cauda equina causing some or all of the symptoms.
  • Ruptured Discs - Disc ruptures most commonly occur in the lumbar region, a disc can slip backwards from the vertebra and cause compression of nerve roots, leading to CES.
  • Severe Trauma - Severe injury to the lumbar spine region such as a car crash can lead to a gradual onset of CES.
  • Spinal Stenosis - Spinal Stenosis is caused by a narrowing of the spinal canal, causing pinching, tightness, weakness and more importantly can lead to a compression of the cauda equina.

Symptoms of ces

CES has a range of symptoms which can differ depending on the severity of the compression you are currently experiencing, these are:

  • Severe Lower Back Pain - Severe pain in the lumbar spine is common, although may not always be present 30% of people who suffer with CES have no back pain.
  • Saddle Anaesthesia - Numbness of the 'saddle' area is a key symptom of CES, if you are unsure of the saddle area, think about riding a horse, glutes, groin and inner thigh area are all affected.
  • Bladder/Bowel Dysfunction - Sudden incontinence or a gradual realisation that you cannot hold 'it'.
  • Weakness and Numbness - Weakness and numbness affecting the glutes, legs and even feet can be a symptom.
  • Sharp/Stabbing Pains - Experiencing a sharp or stabbing pain typically indicates a problem with neurological structures, such as the cauda equina.

Treating ces

As previously mentioned, CES is a medical emergency which needs treating very quickly, or bladder/bowel function may not be regained and nerves can become permanently damaged. 

  • Chemotherapy - If the cause is cancerous then you will likely be advised to begin chemotherapy.
  • Surgery - Surgery is very common with patients who have CES as pressure needs to be taken off the cauda equina ASAP.
  • Corticosteroids - Used to reduce signs of inflammation and may help to take pressure off.

If you are worried about any of the information you have read above and feel you may have CES then please contact a medical professional in your area ASAP to find out further information.


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