Cauda Equina Syndrome

The spinal cord is shaped like a tightly wound cable. At the bottom, near the belt line, the cord separates into a bundle of nerve strands called the cauda equina (“horse’s tail”). If these strands of nerves become compressed, a patient can suffer serious neurologic harm such as paraplegia or permanent loss of bowel and bladder function. This can happen, for example, if a disk ruptures and disk material is forced backward into this “horse’s tail.” Usually, emergency surgery has to be done in order to relieve that pressure, for if the pressure is present for too long, the patient can become permanently paralyzed. Thus, when cauda equina syndrome is suspected by a doctor, it is an absolute emergency that must be taken care of as soon as possible.

Some of the signs of cauda equina would be the sudden onset of numbness in the legs or “saddle” region; weakness in both legs; or interruption in the normal bowel and bladder function. When any of these symptoms appear, the patient should go to the nearest hospital and the doctor should order an immediate CT scan or MRI to determine if, in fact, something such as a disk is compressing on the cauda equina. If so, the patient needs to be taken to surgery immediately.

Unfortunately, we have had a number of clients over the years who suffered cauda equina syndrome, but the doctors “dragged their feet” in performing at CT or MRI or they delayed in getting the patient to surgery on an emergency basis. Cauda equina syndrome is very well-known by the medical profession so there should be no excuse for not taking the patient to surgery as soon as the condition is discovered.

In the cases that we have handled, the patients have ended up with paralysis and other lifelong problems. As a result, they have been awarded significant compensation, not only for the loss of their ability to walk, but also for the lifelong medical expenses that they face.