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Slipped Disc and Cauda Equina Syndrome

In this article will explore how a slipped disc and lead to a condition called cauda equina syndrome, explaining what symptoms will arise and how the problem should be treated.

How does a slipped disc cause cauda equina syndrome?

In between each vertebra is a piece of cartilage. These are called discs and act as shock absorbers, cushioning the vertebra during movement.

A slipped disc (also called a prolapsed or herniated disc) is when one of these discs ruptures. More specifically, it is when the soft inner part of the disc bulges through a weakness in the outer casing. This causes it to split, allowing the gel inside to leak out.

If a slipped disc occurs in the lower part of the spine (known as the lumbar), the protruding part of the disc may press upon the cauda equina nerves. These nerves sit at the bottom of the spinal cord and enable sensation and function in the bladder, bowel, genitalia and lower limbs.

However, this function will be lost if a lumbar disc slips (usually L4/L5) and compresses the nerves. This will lead to symptoms such as back pain, saddle anaesthesia and urinary dysfunction. When the physical complaints occur due to cauda equina compression, a diagnosis of cauda equina syndrome can be made.

How should cauda equina syndrome be treated?

If a slipped disc does result in cauda equina syndrome, emergency decompression surgery should be performed. This involves putting a patient under general anaesthetic and opening the lower back to reveal the spine. The surgeon must then remove the slipped disc, alleviating the pressure being placed upon the nerves.

It is vital this operation is carried out as quickly as possible. This is because cauda equina syndrome is a medical emergency, meaning urgent treatment is required to prevent long-term complications.

If the slipped disc is removed in the early stages of the condition, a patient should go on to make a full recovery. But if there is a delay, the nerves will suffer irreparable injury and a patient will be left with permanent neurological problems. These can include urinary incontinence and sexual dysfunction.

Were doctors responsible for a delay in treatment?

The long-term complications associated with cauda equina syndrome are extremely distressing, and this will be all the more true if medical professionals are to blame. Indeed, there are occasions when treatment for cauda equina syndrome is delayed because doctors fail to recognise that a slipped disc is compressing the spinal nerves, causing cauda equina syndrome.

If this has happened to you, you could be entitled to make a claim for the terrible impact this has had on your life. Contact us today to find out more.

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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