Cauda equina syndrome may be caused by a herniated disk, tumor, infection, fracture, or narrowing of the spinal canal. The nerve roots in the lumbar spine are compressed, cutting off sensation and movement. Nerve roots that control the function of the bladder and bowel are especially vulnerable to damage. Although early treatment is required to prevent permanent problems, cauda equina syndrome may be difficult to diagnose. Symptoms vary in intensity and may evolve slowly over time. See your doctor immediately if you have bladder or bowel dysfunction (causing you to retain urine or be unable to hold it) or progressive problems in your lower extremities (loss of or altered sensation between the legs, over the buttocks, the inner thighs and back of the legs, or feet/heels). You may need urgent surgery to remove the material that is pressing on the nerves. The surgery may prevent pressure on the nerves from reaching the point at which damage is irreversible.
Cervical radiculopathy, commonly called a "pinched nerve" occurs when a nerve in the neck is compressed or irritated where it branches away from the spinal cord. This may cause pain that radiates into the shoulder, as well as muscle weakness and numbness that travels down the arm and into the hand. It is most often caused by aging and arthritis in older people and sudden injury that results in a herniated disk in younger people. In most cases, cervical radiculopathy responds well to conservative treatment that includes medication and physical therapy.
Sciatica may feel like a bad leg cramp, with pain that is sharp (knife-like), or electrical. The cramp can last for weeks before it goes away. You may have pain, especially when you move, sneeze, or cough. You may also have weakness, "pins and needles" numbness, or a burning or tingling sensation down your leg. This pain is caused by a protruding (herniated) disk in your spinal column that is pressing on the nerve roots in the lumbar spine. The vast majority of patients with sciatica get better over time without surgery, typically within several weeks. If you still have disabling leg pain after three months or more, your herniated disk may have to be removed.