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Cauda Equina Syndrome from Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease can cause cauda equina syndrome. In this article we explore the link between degenerative disc disease and cauda equina syndrome in more detail.

Low back pain

Low back pain is a very common symptom but can have significant financial implications for those affected, often being associated with reduced productivity and lost wages. Low back pain may arise from any of the spinal structures which enable movement, including:

One of the leading causes of lower back pain is thought to be the degeneration of intervertebral discs. This degenerative disc disease can result in lumbar disc herniation, spinal stenosis or degenerative spondylolisthesis.

Intervertebral discs

An intervertebral disc is composed of a central nucleus surrounded by a tough circular exterior (called an annulus fibrosis) and cartilaginous end plates.

The nucleus is a fluid-like structure made up of water, collagen, elastin fibres and gel. The way the nucleus is made ensures that the intervertebral disc is able to resist compression and shear. This makes the intervertebral disc the most important load-bearing component of the spine, beside the facet joints.

Degenerative disc disease

Degenerative disc disease is a natural part of aging. It is recognised that mechanical factors such as heavy lifting, vibrations, immobilisations and trauma can also cause stress to the spinal structures, increasing the rate of degeneration.

One of the principal changes is the reduction of water content in the nucleus. This can have a number of consequences, ultimately causing the annulus (the exterior) and the facet joints to become overloaded. In turn the annulus can tear, allowing the nucleus to erupt through the gap. This is called a disc bulge or disc hernia.

Disc bulge and cauda equina syndrome

A bulging disc will press upon the surrounding structures, potentially resulting in the compression of a nerve root. Or, if the disc prolapse is central, compression of all the low sacral nerve roots – which together are called the cauda equina.

The cauda equina nerves are very sensitive and compression will quickly cause them to become damaged. This will lead to a loss of function. When neurological function is lost because of cauda equina compression, is patient has cauda equina syndrome.

Treating cauda equina compression

Compressed cauda equina nerves must be treated immediately with surgical decompression. If this is not achieved, the patient will suffer long-term dysfunction, with loss of mobility, sensation and continence.

If these complications arise because medical practitioners did not act urgently when the patient presented, there could be grounds for a medical negligence claim. For more information, please get in touch with us today.

Please call us free on 0800 234 3300, from a mobile click to call 01275 334030 or complete our Free Online Enquiry for a no cost, no obligation opinion.

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