Sciatica vs Cauda Equina Syndrome (RED FLAGS)

In this video I discuss the difference between sciatica and cauda equina syndrome.

Sciatica is a symptom caused by compression of the sciatic nerve in the lumbar spine or the pelvic region.

Some of the most common causes of sciatica include herniated or bulging discs, degenerative disc disease and spinal stenosis, and problems in the pelvis such as sacroiliac joint dysfunction (SI joint) and piriformis syndrome.

Symptoms commonly seen with sciatica include sharp pain in the low back that can travel down the legs with sensation such as numbness and tingling.

Cauda Equina Syndrome (CES) is VERY rare, however, it is very important to know its symptoms because it is a medical emergency.

Although it can be caused by several things such as tumors, infections, or severe trauma to the spine, the most common cause is a severely herniated disc that puts pressure on the Cauda Equina.

Symptoms seen with CES include loss of function of the bowel and bladder. This loss of function can cause either incontinence or retention.

Incontinence means that you cannot hold urine or feces so if you urinate or defecate uncontrollably you need to get to the emergency room fast.

Retention means the opposite. If you can’t empty your bladder or colon then that is a problem as well.

Saddle anesthesia is another classic red flag with CES. If you have severe numbness in the area of the inner thighs, genitals, anus, and buttocks, this is a medical emergency.

CES can also affect the legs so sensations of extreme numbness in the legs or paralysis can also be seen.

Treatment of CES usually involves emergency surgery where pressure is removed from the cauda equina.

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