A tethered spinal cord refers to a condition in which the spinal cord is abnormally attached or “tethered” to surrounding tissues, restricting its normal movement within the spinal canal. This condition is typically present from birth and may lead to various neurological symptoms and complications.

The spinal cord normally extends from the base of the brain down to the lower back. In cases of a tethered spinal cord, the cord is held in place by attachments such as scar tissue, fatty tissue, or bony abnormalities. As a result, the spinal cord is stretched or compressed, which can interfere with its normal functioning.


There are several types of tethered spinal cord, which can vary based on the location and cause of the tethering. Here are some common types:

1. Spina Bifida Occulta: This is the mildest type of spina bifida, when the spinal cord is not completely contained inside the spinal canal. Although it often goes unnoticed and without treatment, it sometimes results in a tethered spinal cord.

2. Lipomyelomeningocele: When fatty tissue (lipoma) is linked to the spinal cord and drags it downward, this form of tethered spinal cord develops. When present at birth, lipomyelomeningocele is often accompanied by additional spinal anomalies.

3. Tethered Cord Syndrome: This is a general term that encompasses various conditions where the spinal cord is tethered due to abnormal attachments. It can be caused by scar tissue, tumors, spinal cord abnormalities, or previous surgeries.

4. Tethered Cord due to Tissue Adhesions: This form of tethered spinal cord occurs when the spinal cord becomes tethered due to adhesions or connections between the cord and surrounding tissues. These adhesions can result from trauma, inflammation, or infections.

5. Tethered Cord due to Tethered Spinal Cord Syndrome: This type is characterized by the abnormal attachment of the spinal cord to the base of the spine or lower spinal canal. It is often associated with conditions such as spina bifida, spinal lipomas, or other congenital abnormalities.


The symptoms of a tethered spinal cord can vary depending on the severity and location of the tethering. Here are some common symptoms associated with this condition:

1. Back pain or stiffness: Individuals with a tethered spinal cord may experience chronic or intermittent pain in the lower back. The pain can range from mild discomfort to severe and debilitating.

2. Leg weakness or numbness: Tethering of the spinal cord can lead to compression or stretching of the nerves in the lower back, resulting in weakness or numbness in the legs. This may affect one or both legs and can impact mobility and coordination.

3. Problems with coordination and balance: Tethered spinal cord can interfere with the normal functioning of the spinal cord and nerves, leading to difficulties with coordination and balance. This can manifest as difficulty walking, clumsiness, or unsteady movements.

4. Changes in bowel or bladder function: The tethering of the spinal cord can disrupt the normal nerve signals that control bowel and bladder function. As a result, individuals may experience urinary or fecal incontinence, difficulty emptying the bladder or bowels, or an increased frequency of urination.

5. Scoliosis (abnormal curvature of the spine): Tethered spinal cord can cause abnormal tension on the spinal column, leading to the development of scoliosis. This is characterized by a sideways curvature of the spine, which can cause pain and affect posture.

6. Foot deformities or abnormalities: In some cases, tethered spinal cord can result in foot deformities or abnormalities, such as clubfoot or high arches. These foot abnormalities may affect gait and mobility.

In infants and young children, additional signs may include developmental delays, changes in leg or foot position, or skin abnormalities over the lower back area.


A tethered spinal cord is usually diagnosed by a combination of medical history, physical examination, and diagnostic procedures. The following are some typical techniques for diagnosing this condition:

1. Evaluation of medical history: Your doctor will talk to you about your symptoms, medical history, and any relevant family history. Any past spinal operations, congenital anomalies, or ailments that might raise the possibility of a tethered spinal cord will be brought up.

2. Physical examination: Your neurological function, muscular strength, reflexes, and feeling will all be carefully examined. Your doctor may also look for any outward indications of spinal anomalies, such skin dimples, hair tufts, or strange birthmarks.

3. Imaging examinations: A variety of imaging examinations may assist see the spinal cord and spot any anomalies. These tests might consist of:

  • The most frequent imaging procedure to identify a tethered spinal cord is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Doctors can see any tethering, spinal cord anomalies, or other associated disorders because to the comprehensive pictures it offers of the spinal cord and other tissues.
  • X-rays may be used to assess the spine’s general alignment and structure. Despite the fact that X-rays cannot directly see the spinal cord, they may assist detect any bone anomalies or scoliosis indications.

4. Nerve conduction studies (NCS) and electromyography (EMG): These may be used to evaluate the electrical activity and overall health of the nerves. NCS assesses the intensity and speed of nerve impulses, while EMG requires inserting tiny needles into muscles to evaluate their electrical activity.

5. Urodynamic tests: Urodynamic studies may be performed to evaluate how well your bladder and urethra are working if you are seeing changes in your bowel or bladder function. These examinations measure the pressure, flow, and capacity of the bladder.


The treatment for a tethered spinal cord typically involves surgical intervention to release the tethered portion of the spinal cord and relieve any compression or tension. Here are some common treatment options:

1. Tethered cord release surgery: This is the primary treatment for a tethered spinal cord. During the procedure, a neurosurgeon or spinal surgeon will carefully detach the tethered portion of the spinal cord from surrounding tissues or structures. This helps to restore normal movement and positioning of the spinal cord.

2. Physical therapy: To assist increase strength, flexibility, and general mobility, physical therapy may be suggested before or after surgery. Exercises and methods may be given by physical therapists to control symptoms and accelerate healing.

3. Pain treatment: Your healthcare professional can suggest pain management techniques if you have persistent pain linked to a tethered spinal cord. Medication, physical therapy modalities (such heat or cold treatment), or other methods of pain management may be used.

4. Follow-up care: It’s crucial to schedule routine follow-up visits with your doctor to check on your development and treat any possible problems or emerging symptoms. They will evaluate your general health and brain function before modifying your treatment strategy as needed.

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