Cauda equina syndrome

Br J Hosp Med (Lond). 2023 Dec 5;84(11):1-7. doi: 10.12968/hmed.2023.0012.


Cauda equina syndrome is an uncommon but serious cause of lower back pain resulting from compression of the cauda equina nerve roots, most commonly by lumbar disc herniation. Red flag symptoms, such as bladder dysfunction, saddle anaesthesia and sciatica, should lead to high clinical suspicion of cauda equina syndrome. The British Association of Spinal Surgeons has published an updated standard of care for these patients because of the potentially debilitating effects of missed cases of cauda equina syndrome. This review summarises these standards and provides a framework to support quick triage of at-risk patients. Immediate magnetic resonance imaging, within 1 hour of presentation to the emergency department, is crucial in patients with suspected cauda equina syndrome to allow prompt diagnosis and treatment. Urgent decompressive surgery is usually recommended for the best outcomes, to reduce morbidity and complication rates.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cauda Equina Syndrome* / diagnosis
  • Cauda Equina Syndrome* / etiology
  • Cauda Equina Syndrome* / therapy
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans
  • Triage