What exactly is cauda equina syndrome? My mother-in-law was diagnosed with it but all we know is that she had a lot of back pain and needed emergency surgery.

Cauda equina syndrome is the name of a disorder that affects the cauda equina, the nerve roots, of the lumbar (lower) spine. These nerves become compressed because of trauma, infection, or narrowing of the spinal canal, for the most part.

Symptoms include difficulty controlling your bowels or bladder, experiencing sexual difficulties, odd sensations in the saddle area (the part that would normally come in contact with a saddle if you were riding a horse), and pain or altered sensation in the legs, right down to the feet in some people.

Sometimes, surgery isn't needed, but many times it is and it should be done as soon as possible before permanent damage sets in.

Stuart Fraser, BSc, Lisa Roberts, PhD, and Eve Murphy, MSc. Cauda Equina Syndrome: A Literature Review of Its Definition and Clinical Presentation. In Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. November 2009. Vol. 90. Pp. 1964 to 1968.

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