How is Cauda Equina syndrome treated?

Cauda Equina syndrome sufferers often need treatment to deal with their back pain

Cauda Equina syndrome is a serious medical condition caused by damage to the cauda equina, which is a bundle of nerves and nerve roots near the base of the spine. These nerves are connected to your legs, reproductive organs, bladder, colon and rectum, so damage to the nerves can have a severe impact on sensation and function in any or all of these body parts.

If you believe you may be suffering from Cauda Equina syndrome, there are a number of treatment options that can help prevent the condition getting worse and alleviate your symptoms.

Getting treatment as soon as possible is essential to minimise the chances of permanent damage and adverse effects to your health, so it is important to be aware of the potential causes of Cauda Equina syndrome, what symptoms to look out for and the various treatment options.

What causes Cauda Equina syndrome?

Cauda Equina syndrome is more common in adults than children, but it can affect people at any stage of their life. It occurs when the cauda equina nerve bundle becomes compressed, most often as the result of a spinal injury.

Common causes of Cauda Equina syndrome in adults include:

  • Herniation (bulging) of a spinal disc, causing pressure on the cauda equina
  • Narrowing of the spinal canal (stenosis)
  • A spinal lesion or tumour
  • A spinal infection, inflammation, haemorrhage or fracture
  • Spinal injury due to a car crash, fall or other trauma
  • Complications from spinal surgery

In children, Cauda Equina syndrome is most often caused by:

  • A spinal birth defect
  • Spinal injury
  • Complications from spinal surgery

Symptoms of Cauda Equina syndrome

Cauda Equina Syndrome can be challenging to diagnose, especially as symptoms vary among patients and may develop slowly. The symptoms of Cauda Equina syndrome are also similar to those for many other conditions, making the correct cause difficult to isolate.

Common symptoms of Cauda Equina syndrome include:

  • Severe lower back pain
  • Pain, weakness or numbness in one or both legs
  • Altered or complete loss of sensation in the lower body, with the legs, buttocks, inner thighs, backs of the legs and feet being most often affected
  • Issues with bladder or bowel function, including both retention and incontinence
  • Sexual dysfunction e.g. loss of sensation or erectile dysfunction

Treatment for Cauda Equina syndrome

There are various treatments for Cauda Equina syndrome and you may need more than one to tackle the cause and effects of the condition.

Lumbar decompression surgery – This can help to relieve the pressure on the affected nerves and should ideally happen within 48 hours of symptoms first occurring as prompt surgery can prevent permanent damage.

Medication – You may be given steroids to reduce swelling if this is causing or exacerbating your condition. If the cause is an infection, you will normally be given antibiotics.

Physical therapy – If you are left with lasting symptoms after your initial treatment, physical therapy can help to improve these. The focus will normally be on controlling the bladder and bowel and addressing muscle weakness in the lower limbs. This could include pelvic floor exercises, strength training and exercises to improve your balance and gait.

Can you get compensation for Cauda Equina syndrome?

Because Cauda Equina syndrome requires prompt treatment, some patients will opt for private treatment, rather than relying on the NHS. You may also need to take time off work, pay for physical therapy and other support and care workers, or pay for alterations to your home to enable you to live independently.

These expenses mean that many people choose to pursue compensation if their Cauda Equina syndrome is due to someone else’s actions or negligence. This is most commonly the case where the condition was caused by an accident or injury that was someone else’s fault, or by medical negligence. You may also be able to make a claim if the condition was misdiagnosed or there was a delay in diagnosis due to clinical negligence.

If you believe you may be owed Cauda Equina compensation, it is a good idea to speak to a specialist personal injury solicitor or medical negligence solicitor. They will be able to help determine the strength of your claim and how much you could get, as well as advising you on your best options for pursuing a claim.