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Nerve Root Pain: A Red Flag Symptom

Nerve Root Pain

The penultimate month of our Red Flag Signs and Symptoms awareness campaign is dedicated to talking about nerve root pain.

Why can cauda equina syndrome cause nerve root pain?

Cauda Equina Syndrome affects a bundle of nerve roots called cauda equina (Latin for horse’s tail). These nerves are located at the lower end of the spinal cord and they send and receive messages to and from your legs, feet, and pelvic organs.

Any squashing of the nerves can cause pain, numbness and/or weakness of the legs, particularly the foot and ankle.

What problems do people experience?

It is quite common for people to experience a combination of back pain, leg pain, leg numbness and leg weakness. Having these symptoms does not necessarily mean that an individual will have cauda equina syndrome.

However, it is still vital that such symptoms are recognised as one of the red flag signs and symptoms of the condition.

Amanda’s Story

Amanda's Story“About 4 years ago I hurt my back whist on holiday. By the time I got home I also had sciatica in my right leg. I went to see my GP who referred me for a MRI as I had had previous back problems. From the result of my MRI I was referred urgently to see the Neuro consultant. It was around August and by now my pain was worse than ever and I could barely walk.

My GP had increased my pain relief and started me on Gabapentin & Amitriptyline. I was signed off from work at the beginning of September.

I was calling the hospital daily to see when my appointment was as I was in agony. By now I had saddle numbness and was struggling to pass urine so I was sent to A&E by my GP. I was sent 3 times and each time saw the same A&E doctor who did the same examination and each time sent me home to wait for my “urgent” appointment.

I then saw a locum GP who wasn’t happy with the way I was. She phoned the Neuro surgeon on call and insisted I was seen that day. They arranged for me to go to my local A&E again for a MRI, again I saw the same doctor who did the same checks and sent me off for a MRI. The MRI showed Cauda Equina and I was then blue lighted to another hospital and operated on immediately. I was in hospital for 6 days It was now October.

“On my review appointment I was told that Cauda Equina was apparent on my first MRI but they had mislaid the report.”

In the January I developed sciatica again and a MRI showed I had another prolapsed disc. I am now 4 years post op and have no feeling in my right buttock/leg and still have to take painkillers. I am trying to wean myself off the pain killers as I refuse to let cauda equina syndrome control my life.”

What you should do if you experience nerve root pain

You should seek immediate medical care from your GP or nearest A&E department.

How is Cauda Equina Syndrome treated?

Cauda Equina Syndrome is a surgical emergency.

Surgery must be done quickly to prevent permanent damage. It is best if surgery occurs within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. You may hear the surgical procedure being called a laminectomy. During a laminectomy part of the vertebra (called the lamina) is removed. This opens up the space surrounding the cauda equina nerves and relieves pressure on the cauda equina nerves.

There are several causes of cauda equina and depending on the cause of an individual’s CES, a patient may also require other treatment. This could include treatment such as high doses of corticosteroids to reduce swelling, antibiotics if you are diagnosed with an infection and potentially radiation or chemotherapy if a tumor was the cause.

Can nerve root pain improve?

Everybody is different.

Some individuals may notice an improvement in their pain straight away.

Some individuals may only notice an improvement in their pain over a period of time – perhaps as long as two years or more and the improvement may not be full.

Unfortunately, some individuals may find that their pain does not improve at all. If symptoms are continuing you should seek advice from your GP.

Sometimes, some individuals are referred to pain clinics in order to optimise their pain medication and for management.

 If you would to know more about the red flag signs and symptoms then see our other articles here.

If, like Amanda, your suffering has been prolonged due to the mistreatment, misdiagnosis or a delay in treatment or diagnosis, contact our free legal helpline on  0800 987 8554 or click here to find out more about specialist cauda equina syndrome solicitors