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Tethered Spinal Cord in Children

  • The good news is that tethered cord is a very treatable condition, especially when diagnosed and treated early in the child's life. While surgery might not be able to restore neurological function that has already been lost, children with this disorder can go on to live full and healthy lives with proper care and follow-up. The experts at Boston Children's Hospital are here to help your family at every step of the way.

    The spinal cord serves not just one essential function, but many. A powerful bundle of nerves, it works with the brain to send messages that control the functions of every part of the body. 

    When a child's spinal cord is compromised somehow—for example, by a spinal cord injury—the effects can be far-reaching. In the case of tethered spinal cord syndrome, (also referred to simply as “tethered cord”), a child's spinal cord is abnormally attached to the tissues around the spine (most commonly, at the base of spine). As a result, the spinal cord can’t move freely within the spinal canal, leading to possible nerve damage and problems with her ability to move freely.

    Tethered cord syndrome can seriously impact your child’s daily life, and can also tax the emotional health of your family. The good news is that with proper medical and surgical care, a tethered spinal cord can be (managed well to ensure the best possible quality of life for your child. 

    A child with tethered spinal cord syndrome may face a number of difficulties, including:

    • back pain
    • leg pain
    • weakness or numbness in the legs or feet
    • difficulty standing or walking
    • fecal and/or urinary incontinence


    The information on the following pages is a good starting point to help you learn more about tethered spinal cord syndrome, and to give you and your family a general idea of what to expect in the weeks and months ahead.

    How Children’s Hospital Boston approaches tethered spinal cord syndrome

    Our team in Children’s Tethered Spinal Cord Syndrome Program provide the full scale of diagnostic, consultation, surgical and follow-up care services for children with tethered cord. Our neurosurgeons and other clinicians are considered to be at the top of their field, and we have many years of experience in studying and treating tethered spinal cord syndrome in children of all ages.

    Some of our particular areas of expertise include:

    Here at Children’s, your child is never merely a patient. Our neurosurgeons, neuroscience nurses, imaging specialists and care team are committed to using our extensive experience to help your child manage his tethered spinal cord syndrome and go on to lead a rich and fulfilling life. We treat your child as an individual, and we deliver care that supports the particular needs and circumstances of your entire family. 

    At Children’s, we use the most sophisticated technology available to help reduce the bulk of tethering masses, while limiting manipulation of the spinal cord itself. Examples include:

    • the contact YAG (yttrium-aluminum-garnet) and CO2 lasers, which use high-energy beams of light to puncture or cut away precise areas of tissue

    • the operating microscope, a highly sensitive microscope capable of great levels of magnification and comprised of special, sterilized parts. This microscope is used in virtually all untethering surgeries at Children’s.

    • an ultrasonic bone-cutting scalpel for gentle removal of bone, as needed 

    Tethered spinal cord syndrome: Reviewed by Mark Proctor, MD
    © Children’s Hospital Boston; posted in 2011

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