The cauda equina, which means “horse’s tail” in Latin, is a bundle of nerves that extends from the spinal cord into the lumbar area of the back. The nerve roots of the cauda equina are responsible for relaying messages between the lower limbs/pelvic organs and the brain.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, cauda equina syndrome occurs when the nerve roots in the lumbar spine become compressed. Emergency surgery may relieve the pressure, but sometimes the resulting nerve damage is permanent. If this is the case, you may qualify for Social Security Disability Income.
Cauda equina syndrome can result in saddle anesthesia. This means that you lose feeling in the areas of your body that would touch the saddle if you were to sit on a horse:
- Back of the legs
- Inner thighs
You may also experience loss or changes in sensation down into your feet and heels. Perhaps the symptom most closely associated with cauda equina syndrome is the inability to control the voluntary function of your bowel or bladder. This can cause you to become incontinent or to retain urine. Cauda equina syndrome can also cause sexual dysfunction.
Degenerative changes in the spine can cause the spinal canal to narrow or intervertebral disks to break down. Either condition can put pressure on the nerve roots. Cauda equina compression can also occur because of a spinal fracture or an infection. A tumor, whether benign or malignant, can put pressure on the nerve roots as it grows and cause cauda equina syndrome.
Cauda equina syndrome requires surgery to relieve the pressure. The prognosis is best if the surgery occurs early, but sometimes permanent nerve damage occurs before diagnosis of the condition takes place. If so, you may need to insert a catheter periodically to drain urine and seek the help of therapists to manage other symptoms.