A tethered spinal cord (TSC) occurs when the spinal cord remains improperly attached to other tissues at the base of the spinal canal. This causes the spinal cord to stretch improperly as the child grows, leading to pain, numbness, and loss of motor function.
It is often possible to diagnose infants at birth or soon after, thanks to signs and co-occurring conditions. Other babies get their diagnosis later, early in childhood. It is important to get an early diagnosis and treatment because symptoms can progress as the child grows. Treatment generally requires surgery and regular follow-up monitoring. In some cases, follow-up surgery is necessary.
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Symptoms and Diagnosis of a Tethered Spinal Cord
There are generally two types of tethered spinal cord, based on the age at diagnosis. Infants diagnosed with TSC have “congenital” TSC while those diagnosed later have “acquired” TSC. Because it is the growth of the child and not the tethering itself that causes symptoms, when symptoms occur and how quickly they occur is different for each child.
Children with TSC may have telltale signs at birth, including extremely high arches, hammertoes, and benign signs such as discoloration or a dimple on their lower back. The presence of any of these signs should trigger additional testing to determine if there is a TSC.
Older infants and children may experience symptoms related to the stretching and pressure on their spinal cord, including:
- Lower back pain with activity
- Leg pain, numbness, and issues with motor function
- Gait issues
- Scoliosis or exaggerated lordosis
- Difference in leg strength
- Loss of bladder and bowel control.
If your child has signs or symptoms that may indicate a tethered spinal cord, your doctor should order magnetic and resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) and an ultrasound. In babies and children with a TSC, these tests will reveal a low-lying spinal cord and thickened tissue (in the filum terminale) at the base of the spine.
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Treatment to Release a Tethered Spinal Cord
Surgery to release a tethered spinal cord requires the surgeon to work closely with a team of neurologists and others to ensure they can release the tether without doing damage to the nearby nerves, nerve roots, and spinal cord. The procedure itself requires the surgeon to open the spinal column, determine the areas of improper connection, and sever those connections.
Most infants and young children do well with this type of surgery. It may relieve symptoms or prevent them from developing in the first place. In children, teens, or adults who already suffered nerve damage, it can generally stabilize their level of function.
Physical therapy may be necessary following surgery, and ongoing follow-up will be necessary because TSC can re-occur. In fact, previous spinal surgery is a significant risk factor for acquired TSC.
A Tethered Spinal Cord Could Support a Medical Malpractice Case
In some cases, medical mistakes related to a tethered spinal cord could support a medical malpractice case. You may be able to recover compensation for your child if they experienced preventable pain and suffering or have permanent impairments because of:
- A missed diagnosis that delayed treatment
- Misdiagnosis and treatment for the wrong condition
- Mistakes during TSC repair surgery
- Other careless or negligent medical mistakes
To learn if you may have a case against the doctor or hospital, you should discuss your case with an attorney in your state who handles birth injury cases. They can explain your rights, identify the liable party or parties, and help you build a case. They can file all necessary claim paperwork and file a medical malpractice lawsuit if necessary in your case.
You will have a limited time to take legal action based on your state’s statute of limitations and its rules for tolling the statute of limitations for children. Your local medical malpractice attorney can help you understand the deadlines that apply based on the facts of your case.
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Talk to a Birth Injury Lawyer in Your State About Your Child’s TSC
If you believe your child suffered preventable pain, suffering, or injuries because of medical negligence, you may be eligible to hold their doctor or the hospital accountable and recover compensation to pay for their treatment and ongoing monitoring and cover related expenses. You will need to discuss your case with a local medical malpractice attorney to get started.
At Birth Injury Lawyers Group, a member of our team can help with your TSC birth injury case. Call us now at (800) 222-9529 to get started. You could be discussing your case with a local attorney later today.
How Is Tethered Spinal Cord Detected In Newborns And Infants?
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.
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.
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.
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) 261-9292 now to reach a member of our team. You will be matched with an attorney near you who can review your case.
What Are The Symptoms Of A Tethered Spinal Cord?
Some signs of a tethered spinal cord (TSC) may be present at birth and give doctors or other medical care providers a good indication that they need to check for issues that require treatment.
When these signs are not present or get overlooked, doctors may not diagnose the child until they fall behind in motor development, struggle with walking, or are old enough to voice their pain.
SYMPTOMS OF A TETHERED SPINAL CORD IN INFANTS AND CHILDREN
In many cases, children born with a tethered spinal cord present certain signs that may indicate a problem. If your infant has any of these signs, your doctor should perform additional testing to rule out or diagnose a tether. The signs include:
- A lesion on the lower back
- A dimple on the lower back
- Uneven or asymmetrical bottom
- A fatty tumor (lipoma) on the lower back
- Skin discoloration on the lower back
- Tufts or patch of thick hair on the lower back
- Commonly co-occurring conditions, such as certain foot and leg deformities and spina bifida
If children are not diagnosed with TSC shortly after birth, their symptoms may become apparent when they fail to crawl, stand, and walk with their peers, or when they reach an age when they can verbalize their pain and other symptoms. Symptoms of TSC include:
- Back pain that gets worse with activity
- Leg pain, numbness, or tingling
- Loss of strength in one or both legs
- Issues with gait
- Muscle contractions
- Tenderness around the spine in the lower back
- Difficulty controlling bladder or bowels
In some cases, it is possible that the symptoms of TSC are not severe enough that the patient gets medical attention until they reach the teen years or adulthood. When this occurs, there may be more impact on the nerves in the lower body, and the patient may exhibit more sensory and motor problems.
TREATMENT AND RECOVERY FOR A TETHERED SPINAL CORD
The gold-standard treatment for TSC is surgery to remove the tether. To perform this operation, surgeons have to work closely with neurologists to ensure nerve function remains intact. This treatment requires careful monitoring during surgery and planning ahead to minimize the risk of damaging the nerves, nerve roots, or the spinal cord itself.
In most cases, the surgeon will make an incision in the back over the tether and open the bones that make up the spinal column so they can see the tether and how far it extends. Only then can they carefully remove the tether and allow the spinal cord to ascend into the correct place.
Surgery generally allows patients with TSC to avoid progressive symptoms, to stabilize their current symptoms, or even allow them to increase their motor function and reduce their pain. Physical therapy may follow surgery, and patients will require regular monitoring.
YOU MAY HAVE A VALID MEDICAL MALPRACTICE CASE AGAINST THE DOCTOR OR HOSPITAL BECAUSE OF YOUR CHILD’S TSC
If doctors failed to recognize the signs of TSC in your infant or missed a diagnosis later, you may have a valid medical malpractice case against the doctor or hospital. Getting an early and accurate diagnosis can greatly affect the outcome of treatment and the quality of life your child lives.
If you believe your doctor failed to diagnose your child as soon as possible because of a careless or negligent medical mistake, a birth injury attorney who practices in your state can review your case for free. They will explain the strength of your case and help you collect evidence to prove the doctor or hospital committed medical malpractice.
They can take legal action and pursue compensation for your family, representing your child’s best interests throughout the process. Most offer complimentary consultations for families whose children were born with TSC.
TALK TO AN ATTORNEY IN YOUR STATE ABOUT YOUR CHILD’S TETHERED SPINAL CORD
You may be able to take legal action on behalf of your child exhibiting symptoms of a tethered spinal cord, but it is important that you act quickly. Each state has its own statute of limitations relevant to this type of case. You may be able to toll, or delay, this deadline, depending on the laws in your state. The best way to learn more is to talk to an attorney who accepts birth injury cases in your state.
At the Birth Injury Lawyers Group, we can help you connect with a lawyer near you. Call us today at (800) 261-9292 to get started. You may be able to schedule your case evaluation the same day or within 24 hours.