Tethered spinal cord is an abnormal attachment of the spinal cord to tissue around it. A tethered cord release is a procedure to separate the spinal cord from tissue that holds it in place.
The end of the spinal cord normally hangs and moves freely inside the spinal column. Abnormal tissue, growth, tightening, or thickening of tissue can make it hard to move the spinal cord. This causes extra stress on the nerves and can cause a range of symptoms known as tethered cord syndrome.
A tethered cord release reduces or removes the tissue that is holding the spinal cord in place. Releasing the tether lowers the risk of further nerve damage. It may also ease some current systems.
Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:
The surgical team may meet with you to talk about:
General anesthesia will be used. You will be asleep.
An incision will be made in the lower back. The incision will pass through muscle and protective layers of tissue around the spinal cord. A portion of the bone may be removed.
The exact steps of the procedure will depend on the tether and how much tissue is involved. Some options include:
Once the spinal cord is free, the internal tissue layers and muscles are closed. Any bone removed may be reattached. The skin is closed with stitches or a waterproof bond. A bandage will be placed over the area.
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About 3 hours, but more complex procedures may take longer.
Pain and swelling are common in the first few days. Medicine and home care help.
The usual length of stay is 4 to 7 days. If you have any problems, you may need to stay longer.
Right after the procedure, the staff will:
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to lower your risk of infection, such as:
There are also steps you can take to lower your risk of infection, such as:
It may take a few weeks for the incision and muscles to fully heal. Physical activity will be limited during recovery. You may need to ask for help with daily activities.
Call the doctor if you are not getting better or you have:
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Association of Neurological Surgeons
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
Canadian Neurological Sciences Foundation
Caring for Kids—Canadian Paediatric Society
Patient education: wound care. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at: https://www.ebscohost.com/nursing/products/nursing-reference-center. Accessed July 22, 2021.
Tethered cord. About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children website. Available at: https://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/Article?contentid=861&language=English. Accessed July 22, 2021.
Tethered spinal cord. Pediatric Neurosurgery website. Available at: https://pediatricneurosurgery.org/diagnosis/tethered-spinal-cord. Accessed July 22, 2021.
Tethered cord syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/tethered-cord-syndrome. Accessed July 22, 2021.
Tethered spinal cord syndrome. American Association of Neurological Surgeons website. Available at: https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Tethered-Spinal-Cord-Syndrome. Accessed July 22, 2021.
Last reviewed July 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated: 7/22/2021