Key Points about Tethered Spinal Cord (TC) 

  • Tethered spinal cord is usually a congenital (present at birth) condition. 
  • To diagnose a tethered spinal cord, doctors use imaging tests.
  • Treatment for tethered spinal cord typically involves surgery.
Common related conditions
Herniated Disc Neck Sprains and Strains Scoliosis

Tethered spinal cord – also known as TC – occurs when the spinal cord has unusual attachments to the spinal column that limit its movements. TC is usually a congenital (present at birth) condition. People with spina bifida also have TC.

Tethered spinal cord causes 

In most cases, people are born with TC, but it can develop later. Causes of a tethered spinal cord include:

  • Benign growth of the spinal cord
  • Congenital deformity
  • Spinal tumor
  • Spine surgery
  • Spine trauma

Tethered spinal cord risk factors

Factors that increase your risk for developing TC are:

  • Having a congenital spinal condition
  • Having spinal or bone cancer
  • Having suffered spinal trauma
  • Having undergone a spinal surgery

Tethered spinal cord symptoms

Signs and symptoms of TC can include:

  • Areas of the spine that are tender to the touch
  • Back pain that worsens with activity and lessens with rest
  • Discolored skin of the lower back
  • Fatty tumor or dimple in the lower back
  • Hairy patch on the lower back
  • Lesion on the lower back
  • Loss of muscle strength in legs
  • Numbness or tingling of the legs
  • Pain in the back of the legs
  • Scoliosis, a type of spine deformity
  • Trouble controlling bladder or bowels (incontinence)
  • Trouble walking

Tethered spinal cord diagnosis

Your doctor may order imaging tests – such as myleogram, ultrasound computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan – to get a detailed image of your spine and determine the extent and effects of the tethering.

Tethered spinal cord treatment

If you are experiencing symptoms or negative side effects due to the tethered spinal cord, your specialist will likely recommend surgery to correct the underlying problem.

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a spine specialist for more specialized treatment.