Understanding Cauda Equina Syndrome
There are many different types of spinal cord injury (SCI), which can have a wide range of effects on a patient. For example, somebody who has sustained a SCI could be left with either an upper motor neuron lesion or a lower motor neuron lesion. These are characterised by spastic paralysis and flaccid paralysis respectively.
Understanding spinal injuries is made all the harder by the sheer number of confusing terms used by medical professionals for parts of the spine. This article is an attempt to demystify some of the terms related to Cauda Equina Syndrome.
As many of us know, the human vertebral column is made up of 33 vertebrae: the 7 cervical, 12 thoracic, and 5 lumbar articulating vertebrae; and the 5 sacral and 4 coccygeal fused vertebrae.
The second to fifth lumbar nerve pairs, the 5 sacral nerve pairs, and the coccygeal nerve comprise the cauda equina.
The Cauda Equina
The nerves of the cauda equina control the motor functions of the hips, knees, ankles, feet, and internal and external anal sphincters. They control the sensory function of the perineum, and partially control the parasympathetic function of the bladder.
The parasympathetic nervous system plus the sympathetic nervous system control our autonomic responses. The sympathetic controls the fight-or-flight response, and maintains homeostasis. The parasympathetic stimulates the body’s responses known as ‘rest-and-digest’ and ‘-feed-and-breed.’
Cauda Equina Syndrome
Cauda Equina Syndrome (CES) therefore, is a neurologic condition causing loss of function of the spinal nerves and nerve roots below the conus medullaris – the medical term for the end of the spinal column before the cauda equina.
Symptoms of Cauda Equina Syndrome
There are a number of symptoms of CES, but the ‘Red Flag’ symptoms are the most important to look out for:
- Severe back pain.
- Saddle anaesthesia – numbness in the “saddle” area of genitals and buttocks.
- Bladder or bowel incontinence.
- Sexual dysfunction.
Living with Cauda Equina Syndrome
The symptoms of CES – such as sexual dysfunction and incontinence – can be very distressing, and require specific care. If you have been left with CES after an accident which was not your fault, or even through medical error, contact the lawyers at Aspire Law who specialise in helping clients with spinal cord injuries.
Cauda Equina UK is a specialist charity that provides help and support for people who have CES. They can be contacted on 0845 602 1993.