Cauda Equina Syndrome
Cauda Equina Syndrome Overview
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The spinal cord extends from the brain down through the spinal canal inside the vertebral column. Nerves that branch off of the spinal cord (also called nerve roots) are an extension of the spinal cord and are responsible for sending signals to and from the muscles and other structures throughout the body. These signals allow the brain to interpret information from the body including pain, touch, and sense of position. Outgoing signals allow the brain to control actions of the organs and muscle movements.
The spinal cord ends near the first lumbar vertebra in the lower back, forming the conus medullaris. The fibrous extension of the spinal cord is the filum terminale. The bundle of nerve roots below the conus medullaris is named the cauda equina (see Multimedia File 1).
Compression or inflammation of the nerve roots can cause symptoms of pain, altered reflexes, decreased strength, and decreased sensation. Although these symptoms can become severe, and in some cases disabling, most are self-limiting and respond to conservative care.
An extreme version of nerve compression or inflammation is cauda equina syndrome. Cauda equina syndrome is a serious condition caused by compression of the nerves in the lower portion of the spinal canal (see Multimedia File 2). Cauda equina 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.
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