Cauda equina syndrome is a potentially devastating spinal condition. The diagnosis of cauda equina syndrome lacks sensitivity and specificity, sometimes occurring after irreparable neurological damage has happened. Timely diagnosis and treatment is imperative for optimal outcomes and for avoiding medicolegal ramifications. Cauda equina syndrome results from conditions that compress the nerves in the lumbosacral spinal canal. Although no consensus definition exists, it generally presents with varying degrees of sensory loss, motor weakness, and bowel and bladder dysfunction (the latter of which is required to definitively establish the diagnosis). A thorough history and physical exam is imperative, followed by magnetic resonance or computed tomography imaging myelogram to aid in diagnosis and treatment. Once suspected, emergent spinal surgery referral is indicated, along with urgent decompression. Even with expeditious surgery, improvements remain inconsistent. However, early intervention has been shown to portend greater chance of neurologic recovery. All providers in clinical practice must understand the severity of this condition. Providers can optimize long-term patient outcomes and minimize the risk of litigation by open communication, good clinical practice, thorough documentation, and expeditious care.
Keywords: Cauda equina syndrome; Orthopedic surgery; Spine surgery.
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