Low back injuries are one of the most common types of injuries that people sustain at work.  Even so, it is fairly rare to see an injured worker pursue liability for a cauda equina syndrome in a Texas workers’ compensation claim.  It is a very severe injury with big permanent impairments as a result.

What Is Cauda Equina Syndrome?

Cauda equina syndrome is an injury to a bundle of nerves at the base of the lumbar spine (low back).  These nerves send and receive signals from your legs, feet and pelvic organs.  When these particular nerves get damaged, there is often a need for emergency surgery within 48 hours, or the risk of permanent impairment is very high. 

The symptoms of cauda equina syndrome include:

  1. severe low back pain
  2. pain, numbness or weakness in one or both of your legs
  3. a loss of feeling in the parts of your body that would sit in a saddle
  4. and a loss of bowel and bladder function

This type of injury is hard to diagnose because the symptoms are similar to other common low back injuries.  For instance, if you sustain a herniated disc with a pinched nerve, you might have pain, numbness down your leg and a loss of feeling in your thighs.  You might even have a bowel or bladder issue related to other spinal nerve injuries.  But when that bundle of nerves at the bottom of the spine gets damaged, it is truly an emergency situation.

Impairment Rating For Cauda Equina Syndrome In A Texas Workers’ Compensation Claim

The reason why it’s important to know something about this is because when an injured worker has cauda equina syndrome, it is a significant factor in the impairment rating.  If the injury is defined only as disc herniation, the impairment rating could be very low.  Once cauda equina syndrome is the diagnosis, the impairment rating skyrockets and makes you eligible for other benefits down the road.

An impairment rating for a disc herniation in the low back with a pinched nerve can range from 0 (zero) to 15%.  That rating is most often either a 0% or a 5% impairment rating.  However, if the work injury includes the diagnosis of cauda equina syndrome, then that impairment rating would be either a 40% or a 60% rating.  The difference is the severity of the bowel and bladder dysfunction. This will significantly increase your impairment income benefits payout and will make you eligible for supplemental income benefits.

If you have been diagnosed with cauda equina syndrome in a Texas workers’ compensation claim, it’s important to make sure you don’t get shortchanged on your impairment rating.  Every percentage of impairment is an extra three weeks of benefits paid, so it adds up fast.