Most of us at some time in our lives will suffer from back pain. In the majority of cases the pain after laying off the weights, holding off on the 10k runs and yes losing some weight will subside.

There is however a rare condition which, if left untreated, can cause permanent paralysis of the lower extremities. This is called cauda equina syndrome, a nice but for most of us totally undecipherable phrase. In Latin it means tail of a horse.

The spinal cord with all of its densely packed nerves ends at about the level of the first lumbar vertebrae. Below the cord fans out into filaments or horsetails. If there is something compressing these horsetails, then the nerves within will not function.

What can cause cauda equina syndrome. Basically, anything which can exert enough pressure on the cord filaments. This includes bony narrowing from arthritis, acute fracture or infection, blood around the filaments and tumor.

The symptoms are often numbness around the groin, incontinence of urine and stool, inability to urinate and leg weakness.

Treatment is initially with steroids to reduce the swelling and then surgery to relieve the pressure on the cauda equina. The sooner treatment occurs, especially in severe cases, the higher the likelihood of return to normal function.

So if you have back pain and any of the above complaints, be sure to go to the emergency room right away!

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