Tethered Spinal Cord

Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare is a regional leader in pediatric neurology and neurosurgery. Our neurosurgeons provide comprehensive evaluations and surgical care for children, teens and adults who have complex conditions such as tethered spinal cord.

We support patients and their families with comprehensive medical, surgical and rehabilitative care. We offer a family-centered environment that helps our patients achieve their highest possible levels of health, independence and happiness.

Why Choose Gillette?

  • We offer one of the region's largest groups of pediatric neurologists and neurosurgeons.
  • Our neurosurgeons understand the unique needs of children, teens and adults who have complex conditions, such as tethered spinal cord.
  • We offer experts who collaborate to provide comprehensive treatment plans.
  • Our hospital features state-of-the-art technology and facilities designed for your needs.
  • We believe that people who have disabilities deserve a lifetime of excellent health care—from birth through adulthood.

Tethered Spinal Cord Definition

Tethered spinal cord occurs when areas of the spine become tethered, or stuck, to tissues surrounding the spine. When the spinal cord becomes tethered, it can’t move normally. As a result, the spinal cord pulls or stretches, sometimes causing nerve damage or difficulty with movement.

Tethered Spinal Cord Causes

Tethered spinal cord is closely associated with spina bifida. Between 20 to 50 percent of children who have spina bifida require surgery to untether the spinal cord. In a majority of those cases, the spinal cord is tethered to the dura, the tough membrane covering the spinal cord.

Other causes of tethered spinal cord include:

  • Dermal sinus tract (a rare congenital deformity)
  • Diatematomyelia (a split spinal cord)
  • Lipoma (a benign, fatty growth)
  • Tumor
  • Thickened/tight filum terminale (a delicate, threadlike tissue near the tailbone)
  • A history of spine trauma or spine injury
  • Previous spine surgery

Tethered Spinal Cord Symptoms

Sometimes people who have tethered spinal cord don’t develop symptoms and don’t require treatment. Roughly 40 percent of people who have tethered spinal cord, however, develop significant symptoms.

The most common symptoms experienced by people who have tethered spinal cord are:

  • Difficulty walking or standing
  • Leg or back pain 
  • Changes in bladder and bowel function
  • Increased spasticity 
  • Worsening scoliosis

Tethered Spinal Cord Diagnosis and Tests

The first signs of tethered spinal cord might be visible on the lower back—such as a lesion, discoloration, patch of hair, deep dimple or fatty tumor.

If a patient is suspected of having tethered spinal cord, the following tests might help identify the condition and determine its severity.

Tethered Spinal Cord Treatments


Surgery for tethered spinal cord is usually the best treatment for patients who have nerve deterioration or problems with movement. Surgery typically involves releasing the spinal cord (“untethering it”) from the surrounding attached tissues. Early surgery can help prevent additional deterioration of nerve function. Long-term monitoring is often necessary to ensure the spinal cord doesn’t become tethered again.


Medication can’t treat tethered spinal cord itself, but it is sometimes used to ease pain or reduce muscle spasticity associated with the condition.

Our Services

Some patients might continue to experience pain, weakness, difficulty walking or other medical issues after surgery to untether the spine. Our team members provide a variety of services to meet the ongoing needs of patients who have tethered spinal cord.

Specialties and services most often involved caring for patients who have tethered spinal cord include:

For more information about the services we offer at Gillette, search Conditions and Care.

Meet Nolan

Find out how we're moving Nolan forward.

Read Nolan's Story ยป