Cauda equina syndrome occurs when any mechanical or inflammatory issue causes cauda equina compression to the point of neurological disruption or damage.

A lumbar herniated disc often causes nerve compression, which can lead to cauda equina.
Lumbar Herniated Disc Video

Lumbar Herniated Disc Is Typical Cause of CES

Nerve compression leading to cauda equina syndrome is most often caused a lumbar herniated disc. A lumbar disc can herniate in a single injury when excessive pressure is placed on the lower spine, or can occur when an already weakened disc is strained and ruptures.

See Lumbar Herniated Disc: What You Should Know

Typically, a herniated disc will not affect the cauda equina. Only between 2% and 6% of lumbar disc surgeries are performed to treat cauda equina syndrome.1

See Surgery for Lumbar Herniated Disc


Other Causes of Cauda Equina Syndrome

In addition to lumbar herniated disc, it is possible for the following factors to impinge on the cauda equina and cause symptoms.

Risk factors for the condition are similar to risk factors for spinal stenosis and lumbar herniated disc, including overall health and lifestyle (such as nicotine use, obesity, and low activity level), being between 30 and 50 years old, and labor-intensive work.

See Lumbar Herniated Disc: Causes and Risk Factors


Diagnosing Cauda Equina Syndrome

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is the standard method of confirming the presence of cauda equina syndrome and for planning surgical treatment. The sooner cauda equina syndrome can be diagnosed, the better chance the patient has to make a sound recovery and experience as few lingering symptoms of nerve damage as possible.

See How MRI Scans Work


  • 1.Gardner A, Gardner E, Morley T. Cauda equina syndrome: a review of the current clinical and medico-legal position. Eur Spine J. 2011;20(5):690-7