European Spine Journal

, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 451–457 | Cite as

Cauda equina lesions as a complication of spinal surgery

  • Simon PodnarEmail author
Original Article


Although the most common aetiology of cauda equina lesions is lumbar intervertebral disc herniation, iatrogenic lesions may also be the cause. The aim of this study was to identify and present patients in whom cauda equina lesions occurred after spinal surgery. From the author’s series of patients with cauda equina lesions, those with the appearance of sacral symptoms after spinal surgery were identified. To demonstrate lesions more objectively, electrodiagnostic studies were performed in addition to history and clinical examination. Imaging studies were also reviewed. Of 69 patients from the series, 11 patients in whom a cauda equina lesion developed after spinal surgery were identified. The aetiology comprised surgery for herniated intervertebral disc in 5 (4 performed by a single surgeon), spinal stenosis surgery in 4, and postoperative lumbar epidural haematoma in 2 patients (each performed by a different surgeon). Proportion of spinal surgeries with this complication varied from 0 to 6.6‰ in different centres. Patients with iatrogenic cauda equina lesion were significantly older (p < 0.001), and reported more severe urinary, but similar bowel and sexual symptoms compared to other patients in the series. In conclusion the study identified spinal surgery as the cause of approximately 15% of cauda equina lesions. More than a third of lesions developed after procedures performed by a single surgeon. Most of the remaining lesions could probably be avoided by better surgical technique (e.g. the use of a high-speed drill instead of a Kerrison rongeur in patients with severe spinal stenosis), or prevented by closer postoperative monitoring (e.g. in patients with postoperative lumbar epidural haematoma).


Cauda equina Disc herniation Spinal stenosis Spinal surgery Sacral 



Computer tomography


External anal sphincter




Magnetic resonance imaging


Motor unit potential



The author thanks Prof. Roman Bošnjak (surgery), Prof. David B. Vodušek (neurology), Dr. Gašper Gregorič (radiology), and Dr. Dianne Jones (language) for review of the manuscript. The study was supported by the Republic of Slovenia Research Agency, Grant No. J3 7899.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Neurology, Institute of Clinical NeurophysiologyUniversity Medical Center LjubljanaLjubljanaSlovenia

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