Tethered spinal cord syndrome

Tethered spinal cord syndrome, or tethered cord, is a neurological disorder that occurs when the spinal cord is attached to tissue around the spine. The spinal cord normally floats freely inside the spinal column. When tethered cord occurs, movement of the spinal cord is limited. This can cause the spinal cord to stretch as a child grows, which can lead to nerve damage, pain, and other symptoms. This syndrome is common in children with spina bifida, though it also occurs in children who do not have the condition.

Causes and Risk Factors

Tethered cord usually occurs due to a defect during development of the spine before a baby is born. Tethered cord may occur after birth due to damage to the spine or from scar tissue after a surgery. Other risk factors associated with tethered cord include:

  • Dermal sinus tract (a rare congenital deformity)
  • Diastematomyelia (a split spinal cord)
  • Tumor
  • A history of spine trauma
  • A history of spine surgery


Symptoms of tethered cord can vary depending on the age of your child and may include:

  • A dimple, lesion, bump, discoloration, or patch of hair on the lower back
  • Back pain, worsened by activity and relieved with rest
  • Changes in leg strength or gait
  • Bowel and bladder control problems
  • Scoliosis or an abnormal curvature of the spine
  • Leg pain, numbness, or tingling


Tethered spinal cord is a treatable condition, especially when diagnosed early. If your child is displaying symptoms and a tethered cord is suspected, your neurosurgeon may order and MRI, CT, or CAT scan to assess your child’s condition. Sometimes surgery is required to untether the spinal cord, but it is generally only recommended if there are clinical signs or symptoms of deterioration.