How Long Does It Take to Recover From Cauda Equina Syndrome?

Rear view of senior Asian man suffering from backache, massaging aching muscles while sitting on bed. Elderly and health issues concept

If you are reading this article, there is a good chance that you or someone you love has been diagnosed with cauda equina syndrome (CES). “Cauda equina” is Latin for “horse’s tail,” and the syndrome got its name because it affects the bundle of nerve roots in the lumbar spine, which resembles the tail of a horse. Cauda equina syndrome is caused by compression of these nerves, which control bladder and bowel function and affect sensation and movement in the lower extremities.

Cauda equina syndrome is rare, but is very serious. It can be difficult to diagnose, because it may have a gradual onset and a variety of causes, ranging from a sudden spinal injury to stenosis (narrowing) of the spinal column to a lesion or tumor. Once people have been diagnosed, their first questions tend to be “Will I recover completely?” and “How long will it take to get better?” These questions can be difficult to answer.

Treatment for Cauda Equina Syndrome

Since CES is caused by the compression of nerves, the treatment usually involves decompression surgery to relieve pressure on the nerves, such as by removing a slipped disc. Like all spinal surgeries, decompression surgery is a delicate procedure; it affects not only nerves, but muscle and bone. You should expect that even if your surgery is successful, it may take some time for your body to recover from the surgery itself. In other words, you may not notice an immediate improvement in your condition immediately after surgery.

Your body will need first to recover from the trauma of the surgical procedure, and then restoration of nerve function will happen over time. How quickly, and how completely, recovery of nerve function takes place varies from person to person. It is likely that you will need to undergo physical therapy for an extended period as you recover. Physical therapy helps to improve strength in the legs and lower back.

Recovery From Cauda Equina Syndrome

You might start to notice some improvement in function soon after recovering from surgery, but nerve recovery often takes time. You might have significant recovery over the course of several weeks, or it could take many months to regain function. Most medical experts say that gradual recovery can continue for up to two years following surgery. After that period has passed, most doctors say that it is unlikely that there will be much further improvement in a patient’s condition.

It is important to continue with recommended physical therapy exercises in order to maximize your recovery. However, one of the most important factors in how long a recovery will take, and how complete it will be, is how quickly CES was diagnosed and treated. Cauda equina syndrome is a surgical emergency. Ideally, a patient will undergo decompression surgery within 24-48 hours after the onset of symptoms. Every hour that passes increases the likelihood that a

Because recovery takes place over an extended period of time, it is usually impossible to know at the outset of treatment what a particular patient’s prognosis will be. Some clients regain almost all function; others have nerve damage that is severe and irreversible.

Long-term or permanent injuries from delay in treating CES can include chronic pain, weakness, limited mobility, sexual dysfunction, and bladder and bowel dysfunction. Obviously, even one of these problems can severely impact your quality of life.

Is Failure to Diagnose Cauda Equina Syndrome Medical Malpractice?

Because prompt diagnosis and treatment is so critical to a successful recovery from cauda equina syndrome, a doctor’s failure to address your symptoms could be medical malpractice. The doctor you consulted regarding your symptoms may have failed to carry out appropriate testing or may have misread or misinterpreted test results. The doctor may have failed to diagnose cauda equina syndrome, or failed to treat your condition with the urgency it required.

Any one of these failures could constitute a breach of the doctor’s duty of care and give rise to a claim of medical malpractice. Cauda equina syndrome cases, because of their profound effect on a patient’s ability to function, often have significant damages. Those may include damages for pain and suffering as well as lost wages, medical costs, and other economic damages.

As noted above, it can be difficult to know the extent of your damages for up to two years following your treatment for cauda equina syndrome. That doesn’t mean that you should delay in speaking with an experienced medical malpractice attorney about filing a claim. You may have limited ability to work and need significant care as a result of your injury.

A medical malpractice suit may be the only way to get the compensation and financial support you deserve, but there is a statute of limitations to file a claim. If you wait too long, you will be unable to file a medical malpractice claim, no matter how strong your case might be.

If you have further questions about cauda equina syndrome or medical malpractice, please contact Huegli Fraser to schedule a consultation.

Blog Disclaimer

The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.