Tethered Cord Syndrome

U.S. News and World Report - Neurology

What is tethered cord syndrome?

Tethered cord syndrome is a rare neurological condition in which the spinal cord is attached (tethered) to the surrounding tissues of the spine. This prevents the spinal cord from moving to keep up with the lengthening of the spine as it grows. The result may be nerve damage and severe pain. It is often associated with spina bifida and scoliosis.

Symptoms of tethered cord vary, and may include:

  • Back pain.
  • Numbness in the legs or feet.
  • Deformities such as hammertoes, feet turning in or out, high arches.
  • Walking on the toes.
  • Incontinence.
  • Chronic constipation.
  • Frequent urinary tract infections.

Physicians at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford are skilled at evaluating the condition, which usually presents with two or three symptoms occurring at once.

A team of providers works with you to determine whether your child has tethered cord syndrome. The team usually includes specialists in the following:

How is tethered cord syndrome treated?

Surgery is the main treatment for a tethered cord. In this procedure, the spinal cord is released from the surrounding spine so that it can move freely. If treated early, any damage resulting from the tethered cord can often be improved.

In some circumstances, your physician may recommend watching and waiting as a first step, to see if or how the symptoms change over time. Though waiting may create stress for you and your family, we believe our measured approach contributes to our excellent safety record for treatment of tethered cord syndrome and may help avoid any unnecessary surgery.

If your care team recommends surgery, the procedure involves making a small incision in the child’s back. Through a series of steps, the neurosurgeon carefully cuts the band of tissue that has attached to the spinal cord to release it.

Your child will probably spend two to three days in the hospital, and after about a week of being at home, he or she should be back to normal.

This video explains the procedure in more detail:

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