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Is Numbness a Symptom of Cauda Equina Syndrome?

Is Numbness a Symptom of Cauda Equina Syndrome?

Numbness is a symptom cauda equina syndrome. In this article we explain what areas of the body are likely to become numb, and what you should do if it happens to you.

Numbness and cauda equina syndrome

Cauda equina syndrome is a neurological condition in which the cauda equina nerves at the bottom of the spinal cord are compressed. The nerves become damaged and cannot function properly.

Amongst other things, these nerves provide sensation to certain areas of the body. Therefore if they are damaged, the individual will start to feel numb. This can range from reduced sensation to complete numbness. There may also be pins and needles.

With cauda equina syndrome, numbness can be experienced in:

  • The legs, particularly the back of the legs
  • The feet
  • The buttocks
  • In between the legs, around the perineum and genitals
  • The urethra, which is the tube through which urine passes often an altered sensation on wiping is reported
  • The anus
  • The bladder, making it difficult to tell when the bladder is full

This feeling of numbness can spread for example, from the back into both buttocks and into the perineal region.

Other red flag symptoms of cauda equina syndrome

Numbness in the legs, buttocks and genitals is a 'red flag symptom' of cauda equina syndrome. It is called a 'red flag' because it should signal to medical practitioners that something is seriously wrong.

Along with numbness, there are other red flag symptoms of cauda equina syndrome. They are:

  • Bladder disturbance, making it difficult to pass urine
  • Bowel dysfunction, with either incontinence or constipation
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Leg weakness
  • Foot drop

What action is needed?

If you have numbness in the buttocks/legs/feet/genital area, and you also have some (or all) of the symptoms described above, you need immediate medical attention. Cauda equina syndrome is a medical emergency that requires surgical decompression within 24 hours. This means that medical treatment must not be delayed.

You should attend hospital, where a full neurological examination should take place. You should also undergo an emergency MRI scan. If this confirms that you have compression of the cauda equina, you must be on the operating table within 24 hours of your admission to hospital.

What if my cauda equina syndrome operation is delayed?

If your operation is delayed, you could be left with serious disabilities. There will also be grounds for a medical negligence claim, because you should have had surgery on an emergency basis. A failure to achieve this will amount to medical negligence. Contact us for more information.

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