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Tethered Cord Syndrome

What is it?

During pregnancy, special cells come together to form a tube that will become your baby’s spinal cord. If this tube does not form properly, the lower part of the spinal cord is restricted and cannot grow properly. As your child grows, the spinal cord is stretched beyond its tolerance. This can harm the nerve cells, nerve fibers, and blood vessels. Children with spina bifida often have tethered cord syndrome. For more information visit the Spina Bifida Association Web site.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms are not always obvious, but if you think tethered cord syndrome is a possibility, it’s important to discuss it with your doctor. Many families experience delayed diagnoses. Once damage has occurred, it may not be reversed by surgery. The most common signs are:

  • Stumbling, falling or other signs of loss of leg function
  • Changes in bowel/bladder control, such as difficulty in toilet training older children or keeping a dry diaper on babies
  • Decreased strength, reflexes, or sensation in the legs or feet, especially when your child bends or stretches
  • Deformity of the legs or hips
  • Stumbling or changes in walking
  • Pain in the legs or back, especially when your child bends or stretches
  • Curvature of the spine
  • Skin problems on the spine, such as dimples, birthmarks, hairy patches, skin discoloration, skin tags or lumps

How is it treated?

Surgery can release the tension in the spinal cord, which prevents further neurological damage. While the surgery usually helps your child’s pain, bladder dysfunction and motor problems are not always improved by surgery.

About surgery for tethered cord syndrome at Children’s

The neurosurgery team at Children’s provides next-generation care to neonatal infants, newborns, children, and adolescents from throughout the upper Midwest. The team provides some of the most cutting-edge treatments available, including newborn surgery, surgery utilizing intra-operative MRI, and grid placement surgery for epilepsy. Neurosurgery is performed at Children’s - Minneapolis and Children’s - St. Paul.

If you are a family member looking for a Children’s specialist in neurosurgery, visit Find a Doctor.

If you are a health professional looking for a consultation or referral information, please call Children's Physician Access at 1-866-755-2121 (toll-free).

Return to Children’s neurosurgery home page.