Tethered Cord Syndrome

Tethered cord syndrome is a disorder that affects the spinal cord. With this syndrome the spinal cord is attached to tissue where it should not be. Normally, the spinal cord floats freely within the cerebrospinal fluid. This syndrome limits the movement of the spinal cord. This may stretch and strain the spinal cord, especially in growing children. Tethered cord syndrome can also occur with spina bifida.


Causes of tethered cord syndrome include:

  • Abnormal development of the spinal cord.

  • Fatty mass (lipoma) that is connected to the spinal cord.

  • Brain abnormalities such as chiari malformations.

  • Spine surgery or spine injury due to the development of scar tissue.


Symptoms of tethered cord syndrome may include:

  • Deformities of the legs and feet.

  • Deformities of the spine.

  • Weak legs.

  • Pain in the lower back.

  • Abnormal curve to the spine.

  • Loss of bladder or bowel control (incontinence).

  • Numbness or tingling in the lower legs.

  • Difficulty walking.

  • Muscle spasms.

  • Dimpled area in the lower back.

  • A small discolored or hairy patch on the lower back.


Several imaging tests are used to help diagnose tethered cord syndrome:

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

  • Computed Tomography (CT).

  • Ultrasonography.

  • Myelograpy.


Treating tethered cord syndrome is based on the symptoms. Surgery is usually performed if symptoms are getting worse. The operation involves opening the area where the tethered spinal cord is and releasing the spinal cord from the abnormal attachment. Even though surgery can release the spinal cord from its attachment, over time, the spinal cord can become reattached. This sometimes requires another operation.


  • New or severe pain develops.

  • Areas of tingling or numbness increases.

  • There is a loss of sensation to any part of the body.

  • Muscle weakness occurs.