Presentation, management, and outcomes of cauda equina syndrome up to one year after surgery, using clinician and participant reporting: A multi-centre prospective cohort study

Lancet Reg Health Eur. 2022 Nov 17:24:100545. doi: 10.1016/j.lanepe.2022.100545. eCollection 2023 Jan.


Background: Cauda equina syndrome (CES) results from nerve root compression in the lumbosacral spine, usually due to a prolapsed intervertebral disc. Evidence for management of CES is limited by its infrequent occurrence and lack of standardised clinical definitions and outcome measures.

Methods: This is a prospective multi-centre observational cohort study of adults with CES in the UK. We assessed presentation, investigation, management, and all Core Outcome Set domains up to one year post-operatively using clinician and participant reporting. Univariable and multivariable associations with the Oswestry Disability Index (ODI) and urinary outcomes were investigated.

Findings: In 621 participants with CES, catheterisation for urinary retention was required pre-operatively in 31% (191/615). At discharge, only 13% (78/616) required a catheter. Median time to surgery from symptom onset was 3 days (IQR:1-8) with 32% (175/545) undergoing surgery within 48 h. Earlier surgery was associated with catheterisation (OR:2.2, 95%CI:1.5-3.3) but not with admission ODI or radiological compression. In multivariable analyses catheter requirement at discharge was associated with pre-operative catheterisation (OR:10.6, 95%CI:5.8-20.4) and one-year ODI was associated with presentation ODI (r = 0.3, 95%CI:0.2-0.4), but neither outcome was associated with time to surgery or radiological compression. Additional healthcare services were required by 65% (320/490) during one year follow up.

Interpretation: Post-operative functional improvement occurred even in those presenting with urinary retention. There was no association between outcomes and time to surgery in this observational study. Significant healthcare needs remained post-operatively.

Funding: DCN Endowment Fund funded study administration. Castor EDC provided database use. No other study funding was received.

Keywords: Back pain; Cauda equina syndrome; Cohort study; Spinal surgery; Urinary retention.