Object. The clinical features specific to tethered cord syndrome (TCS) in adults as well as factors determining outcome and prognosis have rarely been addressed systematically. The authors studied 56 patients, 54 of whom were treated surgically over the last 16 years.
Methods. In 17 patients who had been asymptomatic during childhood, TCS was diagnosed 8 years after onset of symptoms. Tethered cord syndrome was diagnosed 4 years after worsening in 39 patients with neurological signs or symptoms since childhood. The patients were followed for an average of 8 years. Features specific to adult-age presentation included nondermatomal pain aggravated by movement in 34 patients and conditions such as pregnancy and childbirth (in five of 11 pregnant patients). The most frequent tethering lesions were lipoma in 32, tight terminal filum in 28, and split cord malformation and secondary adhesions in 12 patients, respectively. Improvement or stabilization of symptoms at 6 months after surgery was noted in 46 (85%) of 54 patients. Improvement in pain status was most frequent (86%) followed by improvements in spasticity (71%), bladder dysfunction (44%), and sensorimotor deficits (35%). Factors associated with adverse outcome included preoperative duration of neurological deficits more than 5 years and incomplete untethering. On average, 8 (80%) of 10 patients with incomplete untethering developed recurrent symptoms 5 years after surgery compared with only seven (16%) of 44 patients in whom complete untethering was achieved. Seven patients underwent reoperation and in five of them stabilization of symptoms was attained. At a mean follow up of 8 years, 46 (85%) of the 54 surgically treated patients were in stable neurological condition, including those in whom reoperation was performed.
Conclusions. Surgery for TCS is as beneficial in adults as it is in children. Its success depends on early diagnosis and complete untethering of the spinal cord.