What is Tethered Spinal Cord Syndrome?
The spinal cord extends from the base of the brain through the spinal canal to the lower back.
A tethered cord refers to a condition in which the lower spinal cord is restricted (“tethered”) and is not free to develop normally with in the spinal column. This can occur during fetal development or may be associated with build up of scar tissue after previous surgery in or around the spinal cord.
Signs and Symptoms of Tethered Cord
Signs and symptoms of tethered cord are not specific to this condition, meaning that other disorders may also result in these problems. However, if your child has any of the following, tethered cord should be considered:
- Leg or back pain
- Decrease in strength of legs or feet
- Loss of sensation in the legs
- Deformity of the legs or feet
- Stumbling or walking changes
- Difficulty or delay in toilet training
- Incomplete emptying of the bladder
- Changes in bladder and bowel control
- Curvature of the spine
- Skin abnormalities directly overlying the spinal cord – midline dimples, hairy patches, skin discoloration, skin tags or fatty lumps.
Diagnosis of Tethered Cord
MRI imaging is often used to evaluate individuals with these symptoms, and can be used to diagnose the presence and location of tethering.
Is there any treatment?
If your child has a tethered cord and is experiencing symptoms, it can often be corrected by surgically releasing the spinal cord so it lies unrestricted within the spinal canal. The length of time for the operation is approximately 4 to 6 hours but can vary depending on the amount of tethering and scarring involved. The goal of surgery is usually to prevent further neurological deterioration. Regular follow-up is important; retethering may occur in some individuals during periods of rapid growth.