If You Feel Numbness Here, Go to the ER, Experts Warn

If left untreated, this condition can cause paralysis.

Feeling pain in any part of your body is usually a pretty clear signal that something needs medical attention. Numbness, on the other hand, may be a bit more ambiguous and easier to dismiss. However, experts warn that there are a few types of numbness that can indicate serious medical conditions, including one that could suggest an emergency requiring a trip to the ER and a surgical procedure. Read on to learn why experiencing numbness in one particular area of your body may constitute a major medical crisis—and why you need to act fast if it happens to you.

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Numbness can signal a serious health problem.

man with upper arm pain after vaccine
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Temporary numbness or neuropathy only occasionally suggests a medical emergency, but it's important to recognize dangerous symptoms if they do arise. For instance, if you experience numbness in your face, it's important to quickly rule out a stroke before considering other possibilities. Similarly, numbness in the arms can sometimes signal heart attack or stroke, meaning a prompt evaluation at the ER could be lifesaving.

However, experts say there's a particular area of the body that can suggest a medical emergency if it suddenly becomes numb. If you notice it, you may require immediate intervention to prevent permanent paralysis.

READ THIS NEXT: The 3 Signs Your Chest Pain Isn't a Heart Attack, Experts Say.

If you notice numbness here, go to the ER.

close up of white woman pinching her thighs

Experts say that if you feel numbness in your groin, glutes, or inner thighs, this is a sign of "saddle anesthesia," or reduced sensation where your body would come in contact with a saddle. This is a troubling symptom because it can indicate Cauda Equina Syndrome, a rare disorder that can require emergency spinal surgery.

Cauda Equina Syndrome occurs when the bundle of nerves at the bottom of the spine (known as the cauda equina, or "horse tail" in Latin—named after its shape) become damaged or compressed. Normally responsible for sending messages between the brain and lower extremities, compression in this area can result in nerve damage and paralysis in the legs and saddle area. "Cauda Equina Syndrome is not life-threatening," explains the Cleveland Clinic, "but it can permanently damage your body, affecting your health and quality of life."

If your symptoms begin abruptly, this usually suggests acute Cauda Equina Syndrome. With this diagnosis, "you'll likely need surgery within 24 to 48 hours," the Cleveland Clinic warns.

These conditions can cause Cauda Equina Syndrome.

doctor, back pain, spine doctor, looking at xray
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Several spinal conditions can cause Cauda Equina Syndrome, experts say. The most common causes are having a ruptured disk in the lumbar area, spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal), a spinal lesion or tumor, or infection, hemorrhage, or inflammation in the spine.

Cauda Equina can also be a complication from a known spinal injury, such as a car crash or a fall. In rare cases, it may occur in children as the result of a birth defect.

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Look out for these other symptoms.

Man with kidney pain

In addition to numbness in the saddle area, people with Cauda Equina Syndrome may experience tingling, weakness, severe lower back pain, difficulty walking, bladder or bowel dysfunction, or sudden problems with sexual performance.

If you notice one or more of these symptoms in addition to numbness in the saddle area, you should go to the emergency room for an immediate evaluation. If you are found to have Cauda Equina Syndrome, you may need prompt intervention to relieve pressure on the spinal nerves. "Treating patients within 48 hours provides an important advantage in improving sensory and motor deficits as well as bowel function," Cedars Sinai experts note.

Speak with your doctor immediately if you believe you could be showing signs of Cauda Equina Syndrome.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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