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Cauda Equina Syndrome: the horrible hidden risk of spinal surgery

Cauda Equina Syndrome: The Horrible Hidden Risk Of Spinal Surgery

Every medical or clinical negligence lawyer will have encountered clients with cauda equina syndrome (‘CES’) in their practice. It is a condition – often preventable – that requires urgent surgical treatment. Many cases of CES occur after spinal surgery.

Patients with cauda equina syndrome  have sustained compression to the bundle of nerves at the lumbosacral area of the spine. These nerves resemble a horse’s tail – hence the name cauda equina – Latin for horse’s tail.

Following spinal surgery, postoperative management needs to involve checking for symptoms such as acute or radiating pain in the buttocks and/or legs, numbness and/or weakness in the legs and perineal area and faecal and/or urinary dysfunction/incontinence.

The cauda equina nerves send and receive messages to and from the legs, feet and pelvic organs and compression of these nerves will impair motor and sexual function, bladder and bowel control.

Symptoms consistent with cauda equina syndrome require urgent exploratory surgery – to investigate if lumbar decompression is required to alleviate pressure, to protect the nerves and to prevent permanent damage. The success rate of such surgery plummets after the first 48 hours.

We have helped numerous clients over the years who have not been properly managed following spinal surgery – and where cauda equina syndrome could have been prevented. Cauda equina syndrome is an extremely debilitating condition which affects a person’s life on many levels. Those with cauda equina syndrome are often no longer able to work and require support in most activities of daily living.

One of our current clients has debilitating cauda equina syndrome as a result of the operating surgeon’s alleged failure to act on obvious signs and symptoms following a laminectomy procedure. Our client was discharged home despite having symptoms and the diagnosis of cauda equina syndrome made too late. He now suffers from numbness and muscle wasting in the legs, extreme pain, sexual dysfunction and urinary and faecal dysfunction. He  is now reliant on pain-killers, has developed an antibiotic resistance following multiple urinary tract infections and has developed renal impairment. It is no understatement to say that cauda equina syndrome has ruined our client’s life.

Cauda equina syndrome is not exclusively linked to spinal surgery. Other causes include spinal lesions or malignant tumours, spinal infection, stenosis and disc herniation. It can also be a consequence of birth trauma.

To find out more about cauda equina syndrome click here:



If you or someone you know is suffering from cauda equina syndrome and you hold a concern that the condition may have been avoidable, contact us on (02) 4929 3995. Our friendly team of solicitors and clinical consultants will investigate your situation and explore your options with you.

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