Tethered Spinal Cord | Testing & Diagnosis

How is tethered spinal cord diagnosed?

The tests your child’s doctor will use to diagnose tethered spinal cord may depend on your child’s age.

  • For newborns younger than 3 months, the easiest and fastest way to diagnose this condition is with an ultrasound of the back. An ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to take pictures the spinal canal. 
  • For children older than 3 months, the most effective test is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI uses a combination of powerful magnets, radiofrequency waves and special computers to create three-dimensional images of the spine. 

Other tests your child may need

Depending on your child's symptoms, the doctor may also recommend other tests:

  • X-rays use small doses of radiation to take pictures of parts of the body. For tethered cord, x-rays are used only in special situations, such as to see unusual changes in bone structure.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scans use a combination of x-rays and powerful computers. Sometimes CT scans are used to see more detail of an abnormality in the spine. 
  • Urodynamics testing measures how well the nerves from the spinal cord to the bladder are working. Many children with tethered cord have problems with bladder control. These tests can confirm nerve damage caused by tethered cord and help clinicians plan surgery.