Tethered Cord Syndrome

In this condition, the spinal cord attaches to the spine and causes the spinal cord to stretch. This can cause serious nerve and muscle damage in the lower body.

What are the symptoms?

Skin abnormalities occur in most of the childhood tethered cord cases and 50 percent of the adult tethered cord cases. Other general symptoms include hypertrichosis (an abnormal amount of hair growth), subcutaneous lipoma (a fatty growth beneath the skin), dermal sinus (opening in the skin), muscle atrophy, short limb and numbness. Symptoms in children include difficulty walking, foot deformity, bladder dysfunction and curvature of the spine (scoliosis). Growth spurs often aggravate children’s symptoms. Symptoms in adults include leg weakness and pain in the back, legs or foot arches. Adult symptoms are aggravated by trauma, maneuvers associated with stretching of the spine, disc herniation and curvature of the spine.

What are the treatment options?

In many cases, MRI imaging is used to evaluate individuals with symptoms and may be used to find the location of tethering or presence of a tumor or fatty mass (lipoma). In children, early surgery is recommended to prevent further neurological deterioration. Regular follow-up is important. Retethering may occur in some individuals during periods of rapid growth and may be seen between five to nine years of age. Spinal cord nerve roots may be cut to relieve pain in cases where surgery is not recommended. In adults, surgery to free the spinal cord can reduce the size and further development of cysts in the cord and may restore some function or alleviate other symptoms.

Treatment helps patients with tethered spinal cord syndrome have a normal life expectancy. However, some neurological and motor impairments may not be fully correctable. Surgery soon after symptoms surface helps improve chances for recovery and can prevent further functional decline.

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