Nervous System Home > Tethered Spinal Cord

Tethered spinal cord syndrome is a condition where the spine's movement is limited by tissue attachments. Its symptoms in children include lower back pain, scoliosis, and incontinence. Early surgery is usually recommended for children with this condition. With treatment, individuals with this disorder have a normal life expectancy.

What Is Tethered Spinal Cord Syndrome?

Tethered spinal cord syndrome is a neurological disorder that is caused by tissue attachments that limit the movement of the spinal cord within the spinal column. These attachments cause an abnormal stretching of the spinal cord. Tethered spinal cord syndrome is a progressive disorder.

What Are the Symptoms?

In children, symptoms of tethered spinal cord include:
  • Lesions, hairy patches, dimples, or fatty tumors on the lower back
  • Foot and spinal deformities
  • Weakness in the legs
  • Lower back pain
  • Scoliosis
  • Incontinence.
Tethered spinal cord may go undiagnosed until adulthood, when sensory problems, motor problems, loss of bowel control, and loss of bladder control emerge. The delay in symptoms is related to the degree of strain that is placed on the spinal cord over time.

What Causes a Tethered Spinal Cord?

Tethered spinal cord is the result of improper growth of the neural tube during fetal development, and is closely linked to spina bifida. It may also develop after a spinal cord injury because scar tissue can block the flow of fluids around the spinal cord. Fluid pressure may cause cysts to form in the spinal cord, which is a condition called syringomyelia. Syringomyelia can lead to additional loss of movement, feeling, pain, or autonomic symptoms (functions of the nervous system not under voluntary control).
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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