When Back Pain is Actually Cauda Equina Syndrome

At first, 34-year-old Chris Mee wasn’t too worried about his back pain. In fact, he kind of brushed it off – thinking it could just be sciatica, or aching from his job working as a scaffolder. So Chris paid it little notice. He even began training for a marathon. But then, shares The Sun, Chris’ experience changed when he tried to lift a heavy box, and his back somewhat gave out on him. Just a few days later, Chris found himself at the emergency department, where doctors told him he would need to undergo surgery for cauda equina syndrome (CES).

Chris explains that the doctors view CES as a surgical emergency. The surgery is necessary to remove pressure on the nerves. As WebMD states, it is even better if surgery occurs within 48 hours of symptom onset. Ultimately, this surgery can help prevent permanent damage and lifelong complications. 

Chris’ surgery was successful, and he is now recovering, though he is still experiencing some paralysis and requires some mobility aids. He hopes that his story helps to raise awareness around CES and its symptoms. 

What is Cauda Equina Syndrome (CES)?

Cauda equina syndrome (CES) occurs when spinal nerve roots located in the cauda equina (lumbar spinal canal) become damaged. Typically, this damage results from a herniated disc, though spinal anesthesia, lumbar spinal stenosis, spinal hemorrhages, spinal lesions or tumors, spinal infections, spinal malformations, lower back injuries, and birth abnormalities may also be causes. Normally, the spinal nerves in the cauda equina send and receive messages throughout the peripheral nervous system. When these nerves become damaged, it can result in progressively worsening paralysis and neurological symptoms. Potential symptoms include:

  • Severe lower back pain
  • Bladder dysfunction and/or bowel incontinence 
  • Sudden-onset sexual dysfunction
  • Saddle anesthesia (loss of sensation in the upper thighs, anus, groin, buttocks, and related areas) 
  • Pain in one or both legs
  • Sensory loss or motor weakness in one or both legs
  • Loss of reflexes in the extremities
  • Paralysis (complication)
Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.

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