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The failure of subcategorization of cauda equina syndrome

implications for clinical management

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The diagnostic sub-categorization of cauda equina syndrome (CES) is used to aid communication between doctors and other healthcare professionals. It is also used to determine the need for, and urgency of, MRI and surgery in these patients. A recent paper by Hoeritzauer et al (2023) in this journal examined the interobserver reliability of the widely accepted subcategories in 100 patients with cauda equina syndrome. They found that there is no useful interobserver agreement for the subcategories, even for experienced spinal surgeons. This observation is supported by the largest prospective study of the treatment of cauda equina syndrome in the UK by Woodfield et al (2023). If the accepted subcategories are unreliable, they cannot be used in the way that they are currently, and they should be revised or abandoned. This paper presents a reassessment of the diagnostic and prognostic subcategories of cauda equina syndrome in the light of this evidence, with a suggested cure based on a more inclusive synthesis of symptoms, signs, bladder ultrasound scan results, and pre-intervention urinary catheterization.

Cite this article: Bone Joint J 2024;106-B(3):227–231.

Correspondence should be sent to Nicholas V. Todd. E-mail:

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