Orthopedic pitfalls: cauda equina syndrome

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Low back pain is an extremely common complaint encountered by emergency and primary care physicians. Although the majority of patients have uncomplicated benign presentations, there is a small subset who has a much more severe disease process called cauda equina syndrome, which entails acute compression of the nerve roots of the cauda equina. These patients usually present posttraumatically with the triad of saddle anesthesia, bowel or bladder dysfunction, and lower extremity weakness. Significant morbidity can result from delayed diagnosis and treatment; therefore, the emergency physician should remain aware of this potential orthopedic pitfall. This case report discusses the clinical presentation, diagnosis, and relevant treatment of cauda equina syndrome in the ED.

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