Spine Center

NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital

Comprehensive Spine Center

Cauda Equina Syndrome

Spinal Nerve Damage

Cauda equina syndrome is a serious condition caused by compression of the nerves in the lower portion of the spinal canal. The syndrome is considered a surgical emergency because if left untreated it can lead to permanent loss of bowel and bladder control and paralysis of the legs.

Cauda equina syndrome is caused by critical narrowing of the spinal canal that compresses the nerve roots in the low back area. Numerous causes of cauda equina syndrome have been reported, including traumatic injury, massive disk herniation, spinal stenosis, spinal tumors and other causes.

Symptoms usually include the following:

  • Lower back pain
  • Pain in one leg or both legs that involves the buttocks and the back of the legs.
  • Numbness or change in sensation of the groin and nearby areas.
  • Bowel and bladder disturbances.
  • Lower extremity muscle weakness and loss of sensations
  • Reduced or absent lower extremity reflexes.
  • Difficulty standing or walking.


The goal of treatment is to stop ongoing neurologic damage to the nerves of the cauda equina and minimize the risk of further difficulties.

In many cases of cauda equina syndrome, emergency surgical decompression of the nerves of the cauda equina is the best treatment option. The goal is to relieve pressure on the nerves of the cauda equina and to increase the space available for the nerves in the spinal canal.
A physician can recommend treatment based on each patient's unique situation. Treatment could include:

  • Corticosteroids and other medications may be given to reduce inflammation and swelling.
  • Surgery may be needed to relieve compression on the nerves of the cauda equina.
  • Radiation therapy and Chemotherapy may have a role in treatment if the cauda equina  syndrome is caused by tumor.
  • Physical therapy and bracing may have roles in recovery phase.

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NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital

Cauda Equina Syndrome