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Amy K. Bruzek, Jordan Starr, Hugh J. L. Garton, Karin M. Muraszko, Cormac O. Maher and Jennifer M. Strahle

OBJECTIVE

The nature of the relationship between spinal cord syrinx and tethered cord is not well known. It is unclear if surgical cord untethering results in resolution or improvement of an associated syrinx. The objective of this study was to report the response of spinal cord syrinx to surgical cord untethering.

METHODS

The authors retrospectively reviewed all patients with a syrinx and tethered cord who presented to a single institution over an 11-year interval. Patients with open neural tube defects were excluded. Thirty-one patients were identified, 25 of whom had both clinical and imaging follow-up after surgery. Patients were grouped according to etiology of the tethered cord. Clinical outcomes and syrinx characteristics were recorded.

RESULTS

Of the 25 patients with tethered cord, 68% (n = 17) were male. The average age at presentation was 2.5 years (0–10.1 years) and age at surgery was 3.7 years (range 1 day to 17 years). Etiologies of tethered cord were lipomyelomeningocele (n = 8), thickened/fatty filum (n = 7), intradural lipoma (n = 5), myelocystocele (n = 2), meningocele (n = 2), and diastematomyelia (n = 1). Twenty-three of the patients underwent primary untethering, whereas 2 patients had received untethering previously at another institution. The average syrinx length and width prior to surgery were 4.81 vertebral levels (SD 4.35) and 5.19 mm (SD 2.55 mm), respectively. Conus level ranged from L1 to S3. Patients were followed for an average of 8.4 years (1.35–15.85 years). Overall there was no significant change in syrinx length or width postoperatively; the average syrinx length increased by 0.86 vertebral levels (SD 4.36) and width decreased by 0.72 mm (SD 2.94 mm). Seven of 25 patients had improvement in at least one presenting symptom, including scoliosis, weakness, bowel/bladder dysfunction, and pain. Eight patients had stable presenting symptoms. Six patients were asymptomatic and 5 patients had new or worsening symptoms, which included scoliosis, pain, or sensory changes.

CONCLUSIONS

Although some syrinxes improved after surgery for tethered cord, radiological improvement was not consistent and did not appear to be associated with change in clinical symptoms. The decision to surgically untether a cord should be focused on the clinical symptoms and not the presence of a syrinx alone. Further studies are needed to confirm this finding.