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Cauda Equina Syndrome

The Rochester Regional Health Spine and Pain Center offers evaluation and treatment services for cauda equina syndrome (CES), which occurs when something is compressing the cauda equina bundle of nerves. CES is a medical emergency - if treatment is not sought to relieve pressure on the nerves, function below the waist may be lost.

Learn more about cauda equina syndrome, common symptoms, possible causes, and how our team of experts evaluates and treats this condition below.

What is Cauda Equina Syndrome? 

Cauda equina syndrome occurs when the bundle of nerves known as the cauda equina ("horse's tail" in Latin) are compressed. This bundle of nerves governs the sensation and function of the bladder, bowel, sexual organs, and legs.

CES is typically a medical emergency, and fast treatment is needed to prevent lasting damage that might include incontinence and paralysis.

Common Symptoms of Cauda Equina Syndrome

A common cause of CES is injury of a spinal disc on the nerve roots. A spinal disc is a semi-soft mass of tissue that rests between the bones of the spine - these bones are known as the vertebrae. The spinal discs act as the spine's shock absorbers, and when a disc spills out into the spinal canal, it can press against the bundle of nerves, causing CES. Cauda equina syndrome may also be caused by: an accident that crushes the spine, arthritis, or a penetrating injury. 

If you have one of the following symptoms, tell your doctor immediately. Concerning symptoms include:

  • Severe low back pain
  • Inability to walk, or dragging of foot
  • Numbness, tingling in the perianal area (called saddle anesthesia/paresthesia)
  • Inability to urinate, or to hold urine or feces
  • Weakness, loss of sensation, or pain in one/both legs
  • Sexual dysfunction

Cauda Equina Syndrome Treatment

Talk with your Rochester Regional Health Spine and Pain Center provider about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:

  • Surgical Treatment - CES is a medical emergency, and surgery is usually the best and quickest option to preserve function. 
    • Laminectomy - A surgical procedure to remove a portion of a vertebra, called the lamina
    • Discectomy - A surgical procedure to remove part of an intervertebral disc that is putting pressure on the spinal cord or nerve root
  • Medical Treatment - If CES is due to cancer, radiation therapy may be an option

To learn more or to make an appointment, call (585) 723-7705.

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