Some issues with spinal cord development that occur early in pregnancy, including the closely-linked neural tube defect spina bifida, are evident during routine prenatal scans and may be diagnosed before birth. This is not common with tethered spinal cords, although some researchers hope to change that.
In most cases, tethered spinal cord (TSC) is detected in newborns and infants after birth. Many babies are born with commonly co-occurring conditions or other signs that may indicate tethering, which doctors confirm through medical imaging. In other cases, detection and diagnosis are only possible after symptoms begin.
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Signs and Symptoms of a Tethered Spinal Cord in Infants and Children
Tethered spinal cord is detected in newborns and infants by signs of the condition on their lower back. It is not uncommon for these children to have one or more of these signs:
- Tufts or patches of thick hair
- Skin tags
- Fatty tumors (benign)
- Skin discoloration
Children with TSC also have a higher risk of some physical differences, including unusually high arches of the feet and hammertoe.
Sometimes, though, the child has few outward signs until the cord begins stretching because of the growth of the spinal column. When they have an abnormal gait, back and leg pain, numbness, weakness, scoliosis, or trouble learning to control their bladder or bowels, their parents may turn to a doctor who can diagnose the condition.
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Diagnosing a Tethered Spinal Cord
Once a parent, doctor, or other medical care provider suspects a newborn, toddler, or older child may have a tethered spinal cord, medical imaging is necessary to confirm or rule out the diagnosis. This may include:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Myelogram with contrast
- Computed tomography (CT scan)
The technician completing this imaging will look at the base of the spine to identify a low-lying spinal cord and thickened fibers connecting the cord to the surrounding tissues.
Treatment and Outcomes Following a TSC Diagnosis
Most newborns and babies diagnosed with a tethered spinal cord do well following surgery to remove the tether. By manually freeing the connection, the spinal cord can move with the spinal column as it grows instead of improperly stretching. This prevents future symptoms and may even allow for the reversal of symptoms in toddlers and older children.
Children, teens, and adults with nerve damage related to a TSC may not recover fully, but their symptoms will not continue to progress.
Tether surgery requires:
- A collaboration between the surgeon and a number of other departments
- Working closely with a neurologist to protect the spinal cord and nerve function
- Opening the back and spinal column to visualize the connection
- Ongoing monitoring
Following tether surgery, your child will likely still need to see their doctor regularly to monitor their condition and any possible symptoms. Tethers can reoccur, so follow-up care is imperative.
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Failed Detection of a Tethered Spinal Cord May Be Grounds for a Medical Malpractice Case
A tethered spinal cord detection in newborns and infants as soon as possible means avoiding pain and suffering and possible permanent damage. If your child’s doctor failed to notice signs and symptoms of TSC, or saw symptoms and failed to take action, you may have grounds to hold them accountable. Your child should not have had to suffer preventable pain or impairment.
A birth injury attorney in your state can evaluate your case, determine if medical negligence occurred, and help you build a case against the liable party. You may be able to recover compensation for your family that includes:
- Past and future medical treatment costs
- Related expenses and losses
- Out-of-pocket costs such as parking at the hospital
- Pain and suffering damages
Each state has its own medical malpractice laws, including its own time limits. This can get complicated, especially since many tolls the statute of limitations for birth injury cases. Your lawyer will be able to explain the deadlines for taking legal action based on the facts of your case. As long as time allows, they will also represent you throughout the claims process and ensure you file all necessary paperwork and meet all other deadlines.
Talk to a Birth Injury Attorney About Your Child’s TSC Case
If your child was born with a tethered spinal cord, and their doctor failed to detect it or missed the diagnosis, the Birth Injury Lawyers Group is here to help. They can help you connect with a lawyer in your state who understands TSC cases and can evaluate your case for free.
Call (800) 222-9529 now to reach a member of our team. You will be matched with an attorney near you who can review your case.