Cauda Equina Syndrome: Symptoms & Signs

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Medically Reviewed on 2/28/2019

Cauda equina syndrome is a condition that results from compression or pinching of the nerve roots at the end of the spinal cord (cauda equina). Cauda equina syndrome has multiple possible causes and can occur due to any condition that results in direct irritation of the nerves at the end of the spinal cord, including herniation of intervertebral discs in the low back, tumors adjacent to the lower spinal cord, localized infection near the spinal cord (epidural abscess), and localized bleeding (epidural hematoma).

Signs and symptoms of cauda equina syndrome include low back pain, tingling or numbness in the legs or buttocks, weakness in the legs, and incontinence of bladder (urinary incontinence) and/or bowels (fecal incontinence). Numbness may occur in the distribution of where the body would touch a saddle when sitting upon a horse and is referred to as "saddle anesthesia."

Causes of cauda equina syndrome

Herniated vertebral discs, abnormal growths near the lower spinal cord, and localized infection near the spinal cord that puts pressure on the spinal cord can cause cauda equina syndrome.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/28/2019

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