Tethered spinal cord is a neurological disorder in which tissue attaches to the spinal cord, limiting its movement within the spinal column. The progressive disorder can occur congenitally – often with a close link to spina bifida – or as a result of injury to the spinal cord, and most commonly develops in the lower (lumbar) region of the spine.
When present in children, the disorder often causes symptoms including lesions, hairy patches, dimples or fatty tumors on the lower back, foot and spinal deformities, weakness in the legs, low back pain, scoliosis and incontinence. Symptoms may not be present until adulthood, often as a result of strain placed on the spinal cord over time, or as a result of narrowing of the spinal column (stenosis).
Spinal cord injury also may result in spinal tethering, as scar tissue blocks the flow of fluids around the spinal cord.
Magnetic resonance imaging is most often used to diagnose spinal tethering and determine the location of the disorder. Children often undergo early surgery to prevent further neurological damage. In adults, surgery to detether the spinal cord may help alleviate symptoms.