Cauda equina syndrome – be in the know

Cauda equina syndrome – be in the know

Cauda equina syndrome (CES) is a rare condition, occurring in one to three in every 100,000 people. Up to two people in every 100 with a disc bulge may develop the condition so it’s important that our patients know what to look out for if they have low back pain. Because CES is described as a medical emergency, early intervention is very important to avoid irreversible damage, such as bladder and bowel dysfunction, and sexual dysfunction.

There is no agreed definition of CES but the British Association of Spinal Surgeons’ definition states: ‘A patient presenting with acute back pain and/or leg pain with a suggestion of a disturbance of their bladder or bowel function and/or saddle sensory disturbance should be suspected of having a CES.’

CES occurs when the nerves below the spinal cord are compressed, with the most common cause being a prolapsed lumbar spine disc. Early surgical intervention is mostly required when CES has been diagnosed. Surgery ideally needs to be within a few hours of the onset of symptoms.

The CSP (Chartered Society of Physiotherapy) recently published an article on CES. Here are the signs that both Physiotherapists and their patients should be looking out for:


This is a medical emergency and you need to seek advice urgently – to arrange a home visit and get your rehab started ASAP, email us at or telephone: 020 3637 8988.