Cauda equina syndrome and car accidents: Signs to know

On Behalf of | Apr 2, 2024 | Motor Vehicle Accidents

Cauda equina syndrome (CES) is a rare but serious condition that is often related to car accidents – but it’s not very well known by most people.

What makes cauda equina syndrome particularly devastating is that victims can actually walk away from a wreck thinking that they’ve escaped serious injury – only to lose the ability to walk entirely shortly after.

What is cauda equina syndrome?

Cauda equina syndrome involves damage to the bundle of nerves at the base of the spinal cord. That nerve bundle is called the “cauda equina,” and it’s responsible for transmitting messages between a person’s brain and their lower body. 

The force of impact in a car accident can cause severe trauma to the spine, which can end up compressing that nerve bundle. Herniated discs, fractures or dislocated vertebrae, which are also common in car crashes, can cause the displacement or rupture of the spinal discs. These discs can press against the nerves and pinch them. However, many of the most dramatic effects don’t happen immediately but become evident only once swelling settles in. 

Common symptoms of CES include:

  • Lower back pain: What starts out feeling like muscle strain can turn into intense, persistent lower back pain, which may spread to the buttocks, legs and feet.
  • Bladder and bowel dysfunction: This is one of the hallmarks of CES, but it can manifest as either an inability to control one’s bladder or bowels or problems with urinary and fecal retention due to numbness.
  • Sexual dysfunction: The loss of sexual function and sensation in the victim’s genital area may also be a warning sign of CES.
  • Numbness and weakness: Tingling, numbness and weakness in one or both legs and the “saddle” or groin area of the victim’s body may suddenly begin to affect their mobility and coordination.

If you or your loved ones are in a serious car accident, it’s critically important to have a thorough medical exam afterward, even if you think you are just bruised. Catastrophic injuries can actually manifest over the next few hours or days, and prompt treatment improves the chances of a better outcome.