Although leg pain is common and usually goes away without surgery, cauda equina syndrome, a rare disorder affecting the bundle of nerve roots (cauda equina) at the lower (lumbar) end of the spinal cord, is a surgical emergency.
An extension of the brain, the nerve roots send and receive messages to and from the pelvic organs and lower limbs. Cauda equina syndrome occurs when the nerve roots in the lumbar spine are compressed, cutting off sensation and movement. Nerve roots that control the function of the bladder and bowel are especially vulnerable to damage.
If patients with cauda equina syndrome do not seek immediate treatment to relieve the pressure, it can result in permanent paralysis, impaired bladder and/or bowel control, loss of sexual sensation, and other problems. Even with immediate treatment, some patients may not recover complete function.
Cauda equina syndrome may be caused by a herniated disk, tumor, infection, fracture, or narrowing of the spinal canal.
Although early treatment is required to prevent permanent problems, cauda equina syndrome may be difficult to diagnose. Symptoms vary in intensity and may evolve slowly over time.
See your doctor immediately if you have:
- Bladder and/or bowel dysfunction, causing you to retain urine or be unable to hold it.
- Severe or progressive problems in the lower extremities, including loss of or altered sensation between the legs, over the buttocks, inner thighs and back of the legs (saddle area), and feet/heels.