What is the cauda equina syndrome? How do you know if you have it?

The cauda equina is a group of nerves at the end of the spinal cord starting in most people around L1 or L2. Pressure on these nerves from a protruding disc, bone spur, or spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal) can cause a group of symptoms referred to as cauda equina syndrome including:

  • Loss of sensation in the lower extremities
  • Bowel and/or bladder changes
  • Perineal pain or numbness (the area that comes in contact with a saddle; sometimes called saddle anesthesia)
  • Muscle weakness and atrophy in the buttocks and legs

    The symptoms may be on one or both sides. Anyone with cauda equina syndrome is considered a medical emergency and requires medical evaluation right away. The symptoms can progress and become irreversible with extreme disability. With proper treatment the negative effects can be prevented.