What is a Tethered Spinal Cord?

What is a Tethered Spinal Cord?

Tooba Pasha Waqar |Apr 8, 2021

Tethered Cord Syndrome

If you've never heard of tethered cord syndrome, it's likely because the condition is very rare, and thankfully so.

While this syndrome isn't typically dangerous, it can worsen if the condition is not seen. It can also cause permanent damage and diminish a person's ability to walk. But what is tethered cord syndrome?

In this article, we will briefly look at the symptoms of tethered cord syndrome, the causes, and the best ways to treat this neurological disease.

What is Tethered Cord Syndrome?

In this condition, the cord in tethered cord refers to the spinal cord.

The spinal cord is an essential component of the human body. It carries messages from the brain to all the other parts of the body through its bundle of nerves.

It occurs in a baby while it is in the womb. During development, the baby's spinal cord grows at the same pace as the other bones around it and is of the same length. But as the baby grows, the spine grows out.

But, in some cases, the spine becomes "tethered" when the cord's tail end becomes tied to the end of the body's spinal column. The spinal cord and the spine itself are different parts of the entire spine; remember that.

When the child is born, the tethered cord prevents the spinal cord from moving within the column. This doesn't affect the child as much until they start growing. Because the spinal cord cannot stretch, they start experiencing back pain and trouble walking.

Adults With Tethered Cord Syndrome

While some conditions typically become apparent in adulthood, this syndrome is not one of them.
Tethered cord syndrome is rare in adults and only occurs if the condition is not discovered or diagnosed during childhood.

Acquired tethered cord is also very rare among adults but can occur if any fatty mass at the spine's base becomes attached to the spinal cord's tip. This fatty mass can only develop if a patient has lipomyelomeningocele, a form of spina bifida.

What Are the Causes of Tethered Cord Syndrome?

There is no definitive cause of tethered cord syndrome. What we do know is that tethered cord occurs from birth with some children, and that a child with spina bifida may also have tethered cord syndrome.
Within the body, tethered cord syndrome occurs when the spinal cord end gets attached to something that doesn't let it move. What catches hold of it may include:

  • Fat: Fat that grows around the spinal cord can catch it and grab hold.
  • Bone: A piece of the spinal bone can attach to the spinal cord base.
  • Scarring: If your child has back surgery, scars that form around the cord's bottom end can grab the spinal cord.
  • Tight Ligament: This tight ligament is known as the filum terminale. This ligament is as thin as a string and is stretchy, but when tightened, it can catch and tether the spinal cord.

What Are the Symptoms of Tethered Cord Syndrome?

The most common symptoms of tethered cord syndrome include:

  • Lack of bowel control: The child may have problems controlling their bowels because the nerves cannot stretch as much as they should.
  • Lack of bladder control: For the same reason, because the child's spinal cord cannot stretch, the child may not feel when they want to urinate and would wet themselves without knowing.
  • Back pain: The child may experience lower back pain and limited movement.
  • Curved spine: Because the spinal cord is attached at the base, this may pull the spine down, causing the spine to curve.
  • Trouble walking: While the child may not have issues walking before, they may begin experiencing issues walking as they grow up.

Diagnosing and Treating Tethered Cord Syndrome

If a parent notices these symptoms, their first step should be to take the child to the doctor. If the doctor suspects tethered cord syndrome, they will ask to run some tests to get a better picture of the child's spinal cord.

They may run an MRI and get a urology consultation to check if the child's bladder is affected. If results come back positive, the doctor will recommend surgery.

Treating Tethered Cord Syndrome With Surgery

While surgery may sound intimidating, it is necessary.

Surgery on the spine to correct a tethered cord is known as a laminectomy. And while this is major surgery, it's also common, so there's no need to worry. The laminectomy is compulsory if you want your child's spine fixed. If this operation is not done, it may make your child's condition even worse and result in permanent damage to the spine.

The Surgery Procedure

The patient will be given a general anesthetic, so they won't feel a thing.

During the operation, the doctor will make an incision on the patient's back and cut whatever element is tethering the cord. Once its hold is released and the cord returns to the spinal column, the surgeon will close up the incision.

This surgery takes three hours and requires a fair bit of surgical skill, so don't be concerned if your child doesn't come out within an hour.

After Care

The child will receive pain medication and fluids through IV and will be required to lie flat on their back for 2–3 days. Moving the child will be the nurse's responsibility, so you won't have to perform much care except feeding them.

Typically, children stay in the hospital for about a week, but that can vary depending on how severe their tethered cord was. Once the doctor feels comfortable knowing that the child can sit up, they'll allow you to take the child home.

Closing Thoughts

As a parent, you will worry about your child being in pain because of the tethered cord.

But, if you keep an eye on their health and report to the doctor if anything seems amiss, you may be able to catch this condition in time.

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