What is the conus medullaris?

Conus medullaris is the cone-shaped end of the spinal cord. It is normally located at the end of the thoracic vertebrae (T12) and the beginning of the lumbar vertebrae (L1), though sometimes the conus medullaris is found between L1 and L2. Nerves that pass through the conus medullaris control the legs, genitals, bladder and bowels.

At the pointed end of the conus medullaris, the nerve roots of the spinal cord continue in a dangling formation called the cauda equina, which resembles a horse’s tail. Because the conus medullaris resides in the lower back, injuries or conditions of the lumbar spine can affect this terminal end of the spinal cord.

Conus medullaris syndrome

When the nerves in the conus medullaris are unable to function properly due to unwanted pressure or constriction, the resulting condition is called conus medullaris syndrome. There are many factors that can contribute to this nerve pressure, including:

  • Infection
  • Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal column)
  • Trauma
  • Spinal tumors
  • Degenerative arthritis of the spine
  • Deep vein thrombosis, or blood clots, in the spinal veins

Symptoms of conus medullaris syndrome

While some spinal nerve symptoms like sciatica are unilateral, meaning they only affect one side of the body, injuries involving the conus medullaris are generally bilateral, meaning symptoms will appear on both sides of the body. Symptoms can include lower back pain, in addition to tingling, weakness and loss of feeling in the groin, legs, thighs and feet. More severe symptoms include altered motor functions, impotence, difficulty walking and loss of bowel and bladder function. Anyone who experiences these symptoms should seek emergency medical care immediately, as it could lead to paralysis.

Some less serious spinal conditions like bulging discs, herniated discs, sciatica and foraminal stenosis have symptoms that mimic the symptoms of problems with the conus medullaris. That’s why it’s advisable to seek a proper diagnosis for any spinal condition so that an appropriate treatment plan can be implemented. At Laser Spine Institute, we offer several minimally invasive procedures to treat a range of spinal conditions. Contact us today to find out how we can help you find relief from neck and back conditions, such as conus medullaris syndrome.

Treatments for conus medullaris syndrome

Laser Spine Institute is the leader in minimally invasive spine surgery and has helped more than 75,000 patients find relief from chronic neck or back pain. Our surgeons use a less than 1-inch incision and muscle-sparing techniques in order to alleviate symptoms while resulting in less bleeding and a lower risk of complication compared to traditional open back surgery.^ Find out if you are a candidate for our outpatient procedures today by reaching out to Laser Spine Institute and asking for a no-cost MRI review.*