In order to understand cauda equina syndrome, you must first become familiar with the anatomy of the spinal cord. The spinal cord is basically an extension of the brain that is located in the spinal canal.
When the spinal cord reaches about the level of the waist, it separates into a group of long nerves that resemble a horse’s tail. As a result, anatomists named this area of the spinal cord the cauda equina, which translates to horse’s tail in Latin.
Cauda equina syndrome occurs when a herniated disc in the lower back compresses the entire cauda equina. In most cases, patients suffering from cauda equina syndrome will experience moderate to severe pain in the lower back with associated neurological symptoms.
Saddle anesthesia, which is the progressive loss of sensation in areas that would typically touch a saddle, such as the inner thighs, back of legs and rectal region, is commonly reported by patients.
It is very important to seek immediate medical attention if you suspect that you are experiencing cauda equina syndrome, as emergency decompressive surgery may be required to avoid permanent weakness or paralysis of the pelvis and lower limbs.
Surgery to fix cauda equina syndrome usually involves a surgeon removing parts of the herniated disc that are pressing on the nerves in order to relieve pressure. However, if surgery is not required, conservative treatment such as physical therapy, massage and chiropractic care may be recommended.
The good news is that cauda equina syndrome is rare and most people with herniated discs do not require surgery and usually completely recover with conservative treatment.
As I always say, prevention is the best treatment. Keeping your back straight and properly aligned, especially when sitting or driving for long periods of time, is recommended.
When lifting, let your legs do the work and avoid lifting objects with your back. Maintaining a healthy weight will also reduce your chances of developing a disc injury. Finally, performing regular exercises that strengthen the core muscles of the body will also help prevent disc herniations. Keep these simple tips in mind and you will be well on your way to a healthy, pain-free spine. Until next month, drive safely.
Dr. Christopher H. Singh runs Trans Canada Chiropractic at the 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont. He can be reached at 519-421-2024.