Answered: Top Cauda Equina Syndrome Questions

Cauda equina syndrome is thankfully rare – but its effects can be devastating if misdiagnosed or if treatment is delayed. We answer the top questions around this neurological condition.

What is Cauda Equina Syndrome?

Cauda equina syndrome (or CES) is a serious neurological condition caused by compression of the cauda equina, most commonly by a disc herniation in the lower back – but trauma and infection can be responsible for it, too.

The cauda equina is a bundle of nerve roots located at the lower end of the spinal cord.

These nerves control movement of the hips, knees, ankles and feet – as well as the anal and bladder muscles. These nerves also control the sensory function of the saddle area, and partially control parasympathetic functions – the body’s responses known as ‘rest and digest’ and ‘feed and breed.’

To find out more about CES and its symptoms, read our post on Cauda Equina compensation.

How Serious is Cauda Equina Syndrome?

It is extremely serious, and considered an emergency in all cases. Rapid response is vital to achieving the best outcome from Cauda Equina Syndrome. It can develop quickly, and delays in treatment or an initial misdiagnosis can lead to permanent spinal cord injury. Around 20% of people who change to develop Cauda Equina Syndrome do not fully recover – but treating it as an emergency gives patients the best chance.

How Common is it?

Thankfully, CES is rare: it occurs in one to three in every 100,000 people. Up to 2% of people with herniated lumbar discs may develop the condition.

What is Cauda Equina Syndrome Commonly Mistaken For?

The symptoms of Cauda Equina Syndrome can be mistaken for numerous other conditions, most of which are far less serious:

  • General lower back pain
  • Sciatica
  • Bladder infections

This can cause delay in treatment and poorer outcomes for patients. Up to 30% of patients may present without back pain, which can further complicate the diagnostic process.

How is Cauda Equina Syndrome Diagnosed?

Because of the range of symptoms, Cauda Equina Syndrome patients may be examined by several medical practitioners. The signs of the condition are variable and patients can go through several avenues until a diagnosis is made. MRI scans are used to reveal the condition, before a surgical consultation determines the path to treatment.

Generally, patients undergoing surgical decompression within 24 hours seem to have the best outcomes.

Can Cauda Equina Syndrome be Cured?

Cauda Equina Syndrome, especially if left untreated, can lead to a complete spinal cord injury. There is no known cure for spinal cord injury. But with a programme of rehabilitation, people with CES and resulting spinal cord injury can prevent further complications, maximise their function and gain the skills to live well with SCI.

Can You Die of Cauda Equina Syndrome?

No – but people who develop spinal cord injuries from CES tend to have more comorbidities alongside paralysis. Spinal cord injury patients are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, pneumonia, gastrointestinal problems, pressure ulcers and chronic pain (among other conditions) – which can lower quality of life and life expectancy.

Can You Claim Cauda Equina Syndrome Compensation?

To claim Cauda Equina Syndrome compensation, it must be proven that your injury was the result of negligence. If you were not treated promptly or there was a delay in diagnosis, and this caused you to have a worse outcome, this may be negligent and give rise to a claim.

Spinal cord injury compensation can help to transform life after injury – and while it can’t turn back time, it can make the future easier for people who’ve sustained spinal cord injuries.

Talk to Aspire Law

Raquel Siganporia is a Senior Solicitor and Director of Business Development at Aspire Law.

Aspire Law has specialist expertise in Cauda Equina Syndrome compensation cases – and we continue to guide our clients and their loved ones through claims during the coronavirus pandemic and after.

Contact Raquel free of charge and in confidence on 0800 030 20 40 or at

Alternatively, complete this form and one of our Spinal Injury specialists will contact you.