Patient Education

To help you understand and navigate through your orthopedic health decisions, we have created a patient education section. Please select from one of the categories below to learn more about your condition or procedure.
Cauda Equina Syndrome (CES)

Cauda equina syndrome (CES) is a serious neurological condition caused by compression of the cauda equina, a bundle of nerves located at the lower end of the spinal cord. These nerves control the function of the bladder, bowel, and lower extremities. CES is a medical emergency that requires immediate diagnosis and treatment to prevent permanent damage.

Common Symptoms

  • Severe lower back pain: Often a key indicator, especially if sudden and accompanied by other symptoms.
  • Saddle anesthesia: Numbness or tingling in the areas that would contact a saddle, including the inner thighs, buttocks, and perineum.
  • Bowel and bladder dysfunction: Difficulty urinating, loss of sensation leading to urinary retention, incontinence, or changes in bowel habits.
  • Lower extremity weakness: Weakness or loss of motor function in one or both legs.
  • Sexual dysfunction: Decreased sensation or function.

Cause & Anatomy

  • Herniated disc: A severely herniated disc in the lumbar region can compress the cauda equina.
  • Spinal stenosis: Narrowing of the spinal canal in the lumbar region.
  • Trauma: Fractures or dislocations of the spine.
  • Tumors: Growths within the spinal canal.
  • Infection: Severe infections that impact the spinal region, such as abscesses.
  • Inflammation: Conditions like ankylosing spondylitis.
  • Post-surgical complications: Following spinal surgery.


  • Medical history and physical examination: Assessment of symptoms, including neurological examination to check for muscle strength, reflexes, and sensation in the lower body.

Imaging tests:

  • MRI: The preferred method for visualizing soft tissue and detecting compression of the cauda equina.
  • CT scan: Sometimes used if MRI is unavailable or contraindicated.
  • Myelogram: An X-ray or CT scan taken after injecting contrast dye into the spinal canal.


While CES cannot always be prevented, managing risk factors and seeking prompt medical attention for symptoms of spinal issues can help. Key preventive measures include:

  • Proper lifting techniques: To avoid spinal injuries.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight: Reducing strain on the spine.
  • Regular exercise: Strengthening back and core muscles to support the spine.
  • Early treatment of back pain: Addressing disc herniation or other spinal issues promptly.



  • Surgical decompression: Emergency surgery to relieve pressure on the cauda equina is crucial and ideally performed within 48 hours of symptom onset to minimize the risk of permanent damage.

Post-Surgical Care

  • Medications: Pain management, anti-inflammatory drugs, and sometimes antibiotics if an infection is present.
  • Physical therapy: To aid in recovery of motor function and mobility.
  • Bladder and bowel management: Strategies to manage dysfunction, including catheterization and bowel programs.


  • Permanent nerve damage: Leading to chronic pain, bladder and bowel incontinence, sexual dysfunction, and muscle weakness or paralysis in the lower limbs.
  • Emotional and psychological impact: Chronic symptoms can lead to depression, anxiety, and decreased quality of life.


The outcome for individuals with CES largely depends on the timeliness of treatment. Early surgical intervention can significantly improve the prognosis, but delays can lead to permanent neurological deficits.


What is the most common cause of cauda equina syndrome?
The most common cause is a large herniated disc in the lumbar spine that compresses the cauda equina nerves.

How quickly should cauda equina syndrome be treated?
CES is a medical emergency that requires immediate surgical intervention, ideally within 48 hours of symptom onset.

Can cauda equina syndrome recur after treatment?
While rare, CES can recur if there is a new injury or problem affecting the lower spine. Regular follow-up and monitoring are essential.

What are the long-term effects of cauda equina syndrome?
Long-term effects can include chronic pain, permanent nerve damage leading to bowel and bladder dysfunction, sexual dysfunction, and lower limb weakness.

Is physical therapy beneficial after cauda equina syndrome surgery?
Yes, physical therapy can help improve mobility, strength, and function, and assist in the recovery process.

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