How is back pain characterized in cauda equina syndrome (CES)?

Updated: Jun 14, 2018
  • Author: Segun Toyin Dawodu, JD, MD, MS, MBA, LLM, FAAPMR, FAANEM; Chief Editor: Nicholas Lorenzo, MD, CPE, MHCM, FAAPL  more...
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Low back pain can be divided into local and radicular pain. Local pain is generally a deep, aching pain resulting from soft-tissue and vertebral body irritation. Radicular pain is generally a sharp, stabbing pain resulting from compression of the dorsal nerve roots. Radicular pain projects in dermatomal distributions. Low back pain in cauda equina syndrome may have some characteristic that suggests something different from the far more common lumbar strain. Patients may report severity or a trigger, such as head turning, that seems unusual.

Severe pain is an early finding in 96% of patients with cauda equina syndrome secondary to spinal neoplasm. Later findings include lower extremity weakness due to involvement of the ventral roots. Patients generally develop hypotonia and hyporeflexia. Sensory loss and sphincter dysfunction are also common.

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