I am a medical negligence solicitor and have been working on cases involving cauda equina syndrome for the last 6 years. I have dealt with a number of cases involving delays in diagnosis and treatment of the condition and seen first-hand the impact that it can have on an individual, and how it can affect every facet of their life.
Following on from the first part of my blog on this topic, I now turn my thoughts to the impact of the symptoms of cauda equina syndrome (CES) on everyday life. In isolation, some of the urinary and bowel symptoms might not seem significant, or that difficult to deal with. But take them outside of the comfort and reassurance of your own home, and then think about how you might cope…..
Imagine dealing with the issues associated with cauda equina in a working environment. Think about how difficult it might be to manage any ongoing symptoms in your own home, and then try to think about having to cope with them while you are trying to do your job. How difficult must it be to cope with all this when you are surrounded by colleagues who don’t necessarily know what cauda equina syndrome is or understand why you need to walk around every 30 minutes because of ongoing numbness.
Some people also suffer with sensory deficit in their foot or leg after cauda equina syndrome. This, combined with a lack of power in the thigh, can cause significant problems just walking around in your own home or driving a short distance.
Imagine putting your foot down as you walk along, but not being able to sense that your foot is now on the pavement or kerb. Put this into a home environment and think about how difficult it might be to walk up stairs if you can’t sense when your foot has been grounded on the next step. You would constantly have to be looking down or supporting yourself with your upper body.
Although routine physiotherapy is offered to people who have undergone spinal surgery for cauda equina syndrome, this is usually only a short course, and the level of improvement is usually minimal. Physio won’t help restore function; it just helps keep the pain at bay and strengthens core muscle to help support the back.
Sexual dysfunction and saddle numbness are the most disturbing symptoms of cauda equina syndrome. It can have a profound effect on an individual’s relationship with their partner, and even on a day to day basis can be incredibly difficult to deal with mentally. Often the symptoms of numbness manifest on just one side, which means that there is a need to constantly readjust your position.
In the medical negligence claims that we have been involved in over the last few years we have, time and time again, come across the same issues in the way that medical professionals diagnose and treat cauda equina.
It is accepted and understood by the NHS that a GP may not ever see this specific condition at all within their working life. However, if somebody presents with sciatica or mechanical back pain, it is imperative that they are given appropriate warnings about any future deterioration in their symptoms, and what form the deterioration might take.
I have seen incidents recently where the onset of numbness and disturbance of the normal flow when passing urine weren’t viewed as warnings or “red flag symptoms”. The medical professional involved didn’t see the symptoms as an indication of a more severe, underlying problem that required urgent assessment by an orthopaedic surgeon or neurosurgeon. This tragically led to a delay in diagnosis of cauda equina, with life changing results for our client.
There are a few, very hard working, charities that try to raise awareness of cauda equina syndrome and offer general support for sufferers of the condition. Unfortunately, and especially in the Thames Valley area, there are no specific support groups for cauda equina sufferers. Support groups provide sufferers with the opportunity to meet with others in the same situation, to discuss their symptoms and the impact they have had on their lives.
We are trying at Boyes Turner to raise awareness of cauda equina, so that individuals who have experienced it can learn more about their condition. Watch our client’s story here and remember the warnings signs of cauda equina:
If you have experienced a delay in diagnosis of cauda equina syndrome then you may be entitled to claim compensation to assist in your recovery. Get in touch at [email protected] or call us on 0800 307 7620 for an initial discussion.