Cauda Equina Syndrome

This is a serious condition. The spinal cord ends just below the level of the chest cage. A bundle of nerves starts from the spinal cord below this. This bundle of nerves looks like a horse’s tail and hence the name Cauda Equina. These nerves go to the legs and the lower abdominal organs like the bladder and the bowels. Cauda Equina syndrome is when there is compression of this bundle of nerves. This can happen with a large disc prolapse, fracture, cancer or infection. In Cauda Equina syndrome one loses the ability to voluntarily pass urine or stools. Hence a large disc prolapse that damages the cauda equina may make it difficult for one to pass urine / water. One may also experience numbness in the saddle area. True incontinence of both urine and stools may only occur later on.

Recovery following cauda equina syndrome

Usually nerves recover from damage. But, the spinal cord and some nerves may not recover following damage. The nerves that form the Cauda Equina are very sensitive. If damaged or injured by compression, they may not recover.

 

Infection

Infection in the spine was rare but unfortunately it is becoming more common. Decreased immunity, drug abuse, previous spinal surgery increases the chance of infection. Primary infections that spread through the blood stream usually start in the disc. Antibiotics given for 3 months or more may cure the infection. But if there is structural or nerve damage then one may need surgery.

Cancer

The most common cancer found in the bone is usually spread from elsewhere and has seeded into the bone. It usually spreads from the breast or the prostate. Cancer spreading to bone from elsewhere is secondary cancer. This again is rare and usually occurs in the elderly. Like an infection, cancer can cause devastating effects like paralysis. Secondary cancer usually starts in the vertebra and not in the disc.

Created and designed by Dr. George Ampat, Consultant Orthopaedic Spinal Surgeon

Disclaimer: Dr. Ampat has a commercial interest in Feet and Spine which sells ergonomic office chairs, sit-stand tables, orthotics and comfort shoes.