Symptoms of a Tethered Spinal Cord
Symptoms usually appear gradually as a child grows because as the spine grows, the tethering becomes worse. The normally mobile and free spinal cord is held in one place, causing pulling on, and decreased blood supply to, the spinal cord.
Common signs and symptoms include:
- Trouble with, or changes in, bowel and bladder function
- Loss of strength in the legs or feet
- Pain in the legs or back
- An abnormal walking pattern, such as walking on the toes
- A difference in the size of the right and left legs or feet
- New or increased spasticity
- Unusual birthmarks or dimples on the back may indicate an underlying tethered spinal cord
Ideally the tethered cord is treated soon after diagnosis because long-standing symptoms may not improve after the spinal cord is untethered. The goal of treatment is to prevent the symptoms from worsening and, in some cases, to reverse them.
Treatment for a Tethered Spinal Cord
A tethered spinal cord is treated surgically. Your child's neurosurgeon will remove a small amount of bone from the spine to reach the spinal cord. They will then free the tissue that is preventing the spinal cord from moving within the spine.
There are risks with every surgery. With this particular surgery, the risks include excessive bleeding, infection, injury to the spinal cord, persistent leaking of spinal fluid and anesthesia complications.
However, there are also risks of not having surgery for a tethered spinal cord, including further progression of the symptoms with permanent damage to the spinal cord. This could include a total loss of bladder and bowel control, progressive scoliosis and the loss of the use of the legs.
Call Your Child's Doctor If:
If your child has any of the symptoms of a tethered spinal cord, it is important to have them examined by your primary care provider, who will refer you to a neurosurgeon if needed.