When Leg Pain is an Emergency Situation

We all have leg pain from time to time, and it often is related to some issues with our back. We’re not talking about full-blown sciatica, but occasional pain due sleeping at the wrong angle or tweaking a muscle in your back.

There is another time, however, when leg pain demands immediate attention from the team at DFW Center for Spinal Disorders. It’s called cauda equina syndrome.

What is cauda equina syndrome?

Cauda equina syndrome is a rare disorder affecting the bundle of nerve roots (cauda equina) in the lumbar spine. Our nerve roots in the lower spine send and receive messages to and from the pelvic organs and lower limbs. When a person develops cauda equina syndrome the nerve roots in the lumbar spine are compressed, cutting off sensation and movement. The nerve roots controlling bladder and bowel control are especially vulnerable to damage with this disorder.

This isn’t like most pain, where the person waits it out and it improves. With cauda equina syndrome, if a patient doesn’t seek immediate treatment to relieve the pressure on the nerve roots, it can lead to permanent paralysis, impaired bladder and/or bowel control, loss of sexual sensation, and other problems.

What causes cauda equina?

The causes of cauda equina are the same with many back issues stemming from nerve compression. It can occur as a result of a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, a spinal fracture, a tumor, or an infection.

What are the symptoms?

This condition can be hard for a typical physician to diagnose. Plus, symptoms may evolve slowly.

If you have these symptoms, however, immediate intervention is necessary:

  • Bladder and/or bowel dysfunction, causing you to retain urine or be unable to hold it.
  • Severe progressive problems in the lower extremities, including loss of or altered sensation between the legs, over the buttocks, the inner thighs and back of the legs, and feet/heels.

Treating cauda equina syndrome

If we find that you have this condition, we may recommend immediate surgery to remove the material that is compressing your nerves. This may be the only way to prevent permanent nerve damage.

If you have any symptoms of cauda equina syndrome, please call the team at DFW Center for Spinal Disorders immediately, (817) 916-4685.

Posted in: Leg and Foot Pain

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