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The Cauda Equina Nerves

In this article we explore the questions: what are the cauda equina nerves? What do they do? And what is cauda equina syndrome?

What are the cauda equina nerves?

The cauda equina nerves are a bundle of nerves located at the base of the spine. The name cauda equina is Latin for ‘horse’s tail’. It was given this name by early anatomists because together the nerves do indeed look like a horse’s tail. They begin at the bottom of the spine, which is called the conus medullaris. The nerves then branch down and out, through the pelvic area, buttocks and upper legs.

What do the cauda equina nerves do?

The cauda equina nerves serve a very important function. Together they enable feeling and movement in the feet, legs and saddle region. The saddle region incorporates the bottom, genitals, rectum and bladder.

Should the cauda equina nerves become damaged, feeling and function in these areas of the body would be lost. This will result in very serious complications, including:-

What is cauda equina syndrome?

Cauda equina syndrome is when the cauda equina nerves become damaged due to compression. The nerves may be compressed in a number of different ways, including a central disc prolapse, a spinal tumour or a traumatic injury.

Whatever the cause of compression, the effects will be the same. Namely, the blood supply to the area will be impaired, damaging the nerves. Once harmed, sensation and function will be compromised, and the individual in question will begin to experience the complications described above. Bladder dysfunction, chronic back pain and numbness in the saddle region are the most common early warning signs.

Treating cauda equina syndrome

If treatment is not provided, the nerves will become so deficient in blood and oxygen that they will actually die. Once this occurs, the nerves cannot be restored and neurological function will be permanently lost. This will be devastating for the patient, who will face a lifetime of pain, incontinence and paralysis.

The only way to avoid long-term complications is with early treatment in the form of decompression surgery. If medical practitioners fail to provide such treatment because of mistakes that they have made – for example, a delay in diagnosis – the standard of care will be considered unacceptable. A patient will therefore be legally entitled to pursue a claim for compensation.

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