The Definition of Cauda Equina Syndrome

The cauda equina is the bundle of lumbar and sacral nerves that gather at the end of the conus medullaris, or the terminus of the spinal cord. Cauda equina syndrome (CES) refers to compression of any nerves in this bundle. Since these nerves control bladder and bowel function in addition to the lower limbs, damage to or compression of the cauda equina is an emergency situation that can cause severe pain, paralysis and incontinence. Seek immediate medical attention if you think you may be experiencing CES.

Possible causes of cauda equina syndrome (CES)

While neural compression is possible throughout the spinal canal, stress on the nerves of the cauda equina is especially serious. CES can lead to lumbar pain, leg pain, numbness, paralysis or bowel and bladder dysfunction. CES is an emergency condition that requires immediate medical attention. Causes of CES can include:

  • Trauma
  • A herniated or bulging disc
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Tumors
  • Paget’s disease
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Bone spurs
  • Arthritis of the spine

Preventing and treating cauda equina syndrome (CES)

The only way to prevent CES is to catch the symptoms as early as possible. Inform your physician at the first signs of lower back pain or leg pain. He or she will likely start you on a regimen of conservative treatment that includes pain medication, hot-cold therapy, periods of rest and/or physical therapy. In the event that CES develops, you will likely need to undergo emergency surgery within 48 hours.