Cauda equina syndrome in patients with low lumbar fractures

Issada Thongtrangan, Hoang Le, Jon Park, Daniel H Kim
Neurosurgical Focus 2004 June 15, 16 (6): e6

OBJECT: Symptoms of cauda equina syndrome (CES) can include low-back pain, sciatica, lower-extremity weakness, sensory deficit, perineal hypesthesia or anesthesia, and loss of bowel or bladder function. Several causes of the syndrome are recognized, but its optimal treatment remains controversial and has been broadly based on data gathered from series involving herniated discs. Information on the treatment of CES caused by low lumbar traumatic injuries has not been well documented.

METHODS: Between January 2000 and December 2003, 17 consecutive cases of CES caused by low lumbar traumatic injuries at L2-5 were identified. The traumatic injuries consisted of gun shot wound in two cases, motor vehicle accident in 11, and a fall from height in four. Conus medullaris injuries causing CES were excluded from this review. Presenting symptoms, mechanisms of injury, radiographic images, timing of surgery, surgical approaches, and neurological status at the final follow up were documented. All patients underwent follow up of at least 12 months. Fourteen of 17 patients had satisfactory outcomes. Despite undergoing surgery within the first 24 hours postinjury, three patients had what was classified as a poor outcome given their residual deficits and included two cases with gunshot injuries. Recovery of leg weakness occurred within 4 months, whereas bladder and bowel function recovered within 3 months. All patients in this series underwent decompression within less than 48 hours after syndrome onset. Overall, the authors found no difference regarding timing of surgery between patients in the satisfactory outcome group and those in the poor outcome group.

CONCLUSIONS: Based on the evidence in this study, the severity of a patient's condition on initial presentation is the most crucial factor in predicting outcome following CES due to low lumbar injuries. Although the matter of the timing of surgery remains controversial, the authors of this study recommend that surgery be performed within 48 hours of syndrome onset.

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