What is tethered spinal cord syndrome?
A tethered spinal cord happens when the spinal cord is fixed to the spinal canal, instead of floating free as it normally does. When the spinal cord is fixed to the spinal canal, it causes the cord to stretch like a rubber band, causing pain and potential damage to the spinal nerves as the child grows. It can also interfere with blood supply to the spinal cord.
What are the causes of tethered spine syndrome?
Some children are born with a tethered cord because of a problem during the development of the spine, but there are other causes, which may include:
- Spina bifida
- A history of spine trauma or previous spinal injury
- Previous spinal surgery
- Dermal sinus tract – a rare congenital deformity that consists of lesions near the spinal column
- Diastematomyelia – a congenital deformity in which the spinal cord splits at the base
- A tumor on the spine
What are the symptoms of tethered spinal cord?
Children may have several symptoms of tethered spinal cord, including:
- A tuft of hair at the base of the spine
- A sacral dimple – a dimple or divot at the end of the spine. A sacral dimple is common in infants and usually goes away on its own as the child grows. When it is associated with a tethered spine, the dimple is usually seen with other signs or symptoms
- A fatty mass on the back near the base of the spine
- Back pain that increases with activity
- Skin discoloration near the base of the spine
- Changes in leg strength
- Curvature of the spine (scoliosis)
- Bowel and bladder problems – more common with older children as strain on the spinal cord increases.
How is tethered spinal cord diagnosed?
Although it is possible to diagnose a tethered spinal cord in utero, most often it is diagnosed when a child starts to have signs or symptoms. It may also be discovered when a child experiences spinal cord surgeries or trauma.
If it is suspected that your child has a tethered spinal cord, several tests may be performed, including:
- Ultrasound – an ultrasound is used to take images of spinal cord movement, to indicate if the cord is tethered.
- MRI – if an ultrasound doesn’t give definitive results, an MRI can be used to get in-depth images of the spinal cord and the tissue surrounding it to see if the cord is tethered.
What are the treatment options for tethered spinal cord?
When a child is diagnosed with a tethered cord, surgery is the most common treatment. You can expect the surgery to take three to six hours. Your child will remain in the hospital under supervision for five to seven days, depending on their recovery.
Tethered spinal cord may reoccur due to scar tissue resulting from surgery. CHOC neurosurgeons offer a novel procedure to shorten the bones of the spine, which can prevent the cord from tethering again and lowers the risk for neurological problems.
Our team will follow your child throughout their growing years. Follow-up appointments will be planned at least once a year, until your child is fully grown. That way you can rest assured that your child is growing as strong as possible.