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What Are the Risks of an Untreated Tethered Cord?

doctor examining a childs neck and spine

Sometimes known as tethered spinal cord syndrome (TSCS), a tethered cord can cause complications which can affect movement and bodily functions. Breaking down the term tethered cord, “tethered” is defined as fastened or tied down and “cord” refers to our spinal cord which connects our brain and body. When this occurs and our spinal cord is not free to move around inside the spinal canal, a number of complications may affect activity and bodily functions. What are the risks of an untreated tethered cord?

What Causes a Tethered Cord?

The spinal cord can become tethered at birth or congenitally, a result of abnormal development, childhood spinal surgery, or it can occur later in life.

This disorder of the nervous system is caused by tissue that grabs or attaches itself to the spinal cord making it impossible for the spinal cord to move freely as it should. It can happen at the base of the spine or near an injury to the spinal cord.

If it becomes restricted at the base, everyday activities are affected since it cannot move up and down. Instead, it pulls against the restriction. Sometimes this pull is minimal and not likely to present problems. However, in severe cases, the pressure can cause permanent injury to the tissues of the spinal cord.

As a child grows and the cord stretches, the risks of an untreated tethered cord increase and the symptoms can become profound.

Symptoms of a Tethered Cord

This disorder is progressive and will only become worse. Early treatment is the best way to give your child the ability to have a normal life.

The symptoms in children include:

  • Weakness in the legs
  • Pain in lower back
  • Lesions, hairy patches, dimples, or fatty tumors on the lower back
  • Scoliosis of the lumbar region
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control
  • Tremors and spasms in the legs
  • Changes in the way the feet look like curled toes and very high arches

Ultimately, an untreated tethered cord can lead to body paralysis or loss of sensation.

Treatment for Tethered Spinal Cord Syndrome

After testing is completed and your child’s pediatric neurosurgeon diagnoses TSCS, surgical treatment is recommended to free the spinal cord and to improve the symptoms.


Using neuromonitoring throughout the surgery, your child’s neurosurgeon monitors the nerves and muscles of the lower part of the body to reduce any risk of further damage to the nerves.

During this surgery one or more bones or parts of bones are removed to reach the spinal cord. Using a microscope, the surgeon then frees the spinal cord by cutting or gently pulling it away from the scar tissue or fat holding it in place. Once the spinal cord is free, a patch is used to cover the spinal cord so no cerebrospinal fluid will leak out.

Parents should understand that the spinal cord has the potential to “re-tether” after surgery. Therefore, follow-up care is essential.

 If you suspect your child may be suffering from a tethered spinal cord, contact Pediatric Neurosurgery Group for comprehensive testing and treatment. To schedule your child’s consultation at our pediatric neurosurgery center in Detroit, please call (313) 833-4490 today.

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