How is Cauda Equina Syndrome Treated?

How is cauda equina syndrome treated?


Cauda equina syndrome is a serious medical condition caused by pressure on the cauda equina nerve bundle at the bottom of the spinal cord. If not treated promptly, cauda equina syndrome can cause permanent damage, leading to life long issues, including severe lower back pain, leg pain, muscle weakness and numbness in the lower body, incontinence and sexual dysfunction.

It is therefore vital that cauda equina syndrome is diagnosed quickly and the right treatment given in a timely fashion to minimise the risk of lasting symptoms.


Causes of cauda equina syndrome


There are various reasons people develop cauda equina syndrome, but the most common is as the result of a ruptured lumbar disc (widely referred to as a ‘slipped disc’). This is more common in people aged 20-40, but can happen at any time.

Other causes of cauda equina syndrome include:


  • Narrowing of the spinal canal (stenosis)
  • A tumour or lesion near the spine
  • An infection in the tissue around the spine causing swelling
  • Spinal injury e.g. from a car crash or fall
  • Complications following spinal surgery
  • A spinal birth defect


Spotting the symptoms of cauda equina syndrome


Cauda equina syndrome is often mistaken for other types of back pain, leading it to be commonly misdiagnosed or diagnosed late. Given the importance of swift treatment, recognising the symptoms of cauda equina syndrome early can make a big difference to the final outcome.

Common signs of cauda equina syndrome include:


  • Severe, sharp lower back pain
  • Pain radiating into the legs
  • Weakness or numbness of the pelvic region and legs
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Sexual dysfunction e.g. erectile dysfunction or loss of sensation


Treating cauda equina syndrome

Exactly what treatment you need will depend on the cause of your cauda equina syndrome.

Lumbar decompression surgery – In many cases emergency surgery will be needed to relieve the pressure on the cauda equina. Ideally this should be done within 48 hours of symptoms first occurring to minimise the risk of lasting damage.

Medication – If the issue is caused by swelling, you may be given steroids to reduce this. Antibiotics will normally be given if the swelling is due to an infection. You will also likely be given painkillers to help with the symptoms of cauda equina syndrome.

Physical therapy – This can help to mitigate any lasting issues after initial treatment, including muscle weakness and loss of bowel and bladder control. Physical therapy may include pelvic floor exercises, strength training and exercises to improve your balance and gait.


Funding treatment for cauda equina syndrome

While lumbar decompression surgery and some of the other treatment you will likely need for cauda equina syndrome are available on the NHS, you may prefer to be treated privately and some support you need may only be available privately.

If your condition was misdiagnosed, diagnosed late or your treatment was negligent, leaving you with on-going issues, such as pain, numbness and incontinence, you may be able to make a medical negligence claim. This can provide the money you need to fund the treatment and support you require, as well as compensating you for physical and emotional pain and lost income.

If you believe you may be eligible to make a claim, it is a good idea to consult a solicitor specialising in cauda equina compensation claims as they will be able to advise you on the strength of your case and how to start a claim.


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