Cauda equina — conditions and treatment

The cauda equina is a bundle of nerve roots that extends beyond the bottom of the spinal cord, starting at the second lumbar vertebra. This bundle of nerve roots gives feeling to the legs, feet and organs in the lower body and gets its name from its horsetail shape — equina is Latin for horse, cauda is Latin for tail. This tail-like bundle of nerves is protected by a membrane and is surrounded by cerebrospinal fluid.

Conditions affecting the cauda equina

When the nerve roots below the conus medullaris (the bottom of the spinal cord) in the cauda equina become compressed or irritated because of a spinal condition such as degenerative disc disease or spinal arthritis, it can produce symptoms in the lower body that include:

  • Localized lower back pain
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of sensation
  • Slower reflexes

Severely compressed nerve roots within the cauda equina can lead to a medical emergency called cauda equina syndrome, a loss of bowel and/or bladder control and partial or complete lower body paralysis. These symptoms can become permanent if the condition is left untreated which is why immediate surgery is usually necessary.

However, only a small percentage of patients with a degenerative condition in the lumbar spine develop cauda equina syndrome. Most patients can manage their symptoms through conservative treatments including physical therapy, exercise and pain medication.

When surgery becomes an option

Even if your diagnosis isn’t as severe as cauda equina syndrome, you still might find weeks and months of conservative treatment are not enough to manage chronic lower back pain and a physician might present surgery as an option.

Many doctors and patients alike are anxious about the prospect of traditional open spine surgery because the procedures are highly invasive, requiring a large incision that disrupts the muscles. Returning to normal activity can take months of often-painful recuperation.

Laser Spine Institute offers an alternative to the long recovery^ and hospital costs associated with traditional open back surgery. Contact our Care Team to learn how a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure can help you get your life back from neck or back pain. We offer a no-cost MRI review* to see if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures.