Saddle sensation is preserved in a few patients with cauda equina or conus medullaris lesions1


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    Presented in part at the 7th Congress of the European Federation of Neurological Societies, Helsinki, Finland, September 2003.

Simon Podnar, MD, DSc, Institute of Clinical Neurophysiology, University Medical Centre Ljubljana, SI-1525 Ljubljana, Slovenia (tel.: +386 1 522 1500; fax: +386 1 522 1533;


Although saddle sensory deficit seems the most useful clinical sign in the diagnosis of a cauda equina or conus medullaris lesion, findings of previous studies were controversial. The aim of the present study was to try to resolve this issue. The data from the author's series of patients with clinical, electrodiagnostic and radiological findings compatible with a cauda equina lesion were reviewed. Of the 117 patients in the series, 11 (10 men) did not have a saddle sensory deficit. These 11 patients had less severe sacral dysfunction than the others, and none of them needed urgent surgical intervention. They all had electromyographic (EMG) signs of a significant motor fibre lesion, and in seven men the sacral (penilo-cavernosus) reflex was clinically abnormal. The study revealed normal saddle sensation in approximately 10% of patients with cauda equina or conus medullaris lesions. Dissociation between preserved touch sensation and abnormal EMG findings, as well as dissociation between preserved touch sensation and a non-elicitable penilo-cavernosus reflex might be explained by preservation of the thinner sensory nerve fibres, which are more resistant to compression. Although, saddle sensory loss seems to identify patients who might benefit from urgent spinal imaging and surgery, further diagnostic evaluation is also indicated in patients with normal saddle sensation, particularly due to the increased frequency of spinal tumours found in this subgroup.