Adult Tethered Cord Syndrome Following Chiari Decompression

World Neurosurg. 2018 Apr;112:205-208. doi: 10.1016/j.wneu.2018.01.165. Epub 2018 Feb 1.


Background: Adult tethered cord syndrome is a rare neurologic disorder that classically presents with back or leg pain, weakness, and urinary dysfunction. Spinal cord tethering has been associated with acquired Chiari malformations. Whereas the effects of tethered cord release on Chiari malformation symptoms have been described previously, we report an unusual case of acquired tethered cord syndrome following Chiari decompression.

Case description: We report a 68-year-old man with a history of distant T12-level spinal cord injury and 2 weeks of progressive bilateral lower extremity weakness. The patient underwent a T12-L1 laminectomy in 1977, complicated by arachnoiditis and syringomyelia, with eventual placement of a syringopleural shunt. He remained neurologically stable until 2012, when he underwent a suboccipital craniectomy for Chiari decompression for new-onset headache and dysphagia. Ten days later, the patient noted progressive leg weakness and radiographic evidence of spinal cord tethering at the T11-T12 level. A T10-L1 laminectomy and medical facetectomy was undertaken for detethering with postoperative recovery of ambulatory function with assistance.

Conclusions: Our patient exhibited an unusual acquisition of tethered cord syndrome. The tethering of the spinal cord may have been triggered by arachnoid adhesions from initial lumbar surgery 35 years before presentation and subsequently exacerbated by alterations of cerebrospinal fluid dynamics after Chiari decompression. Given the potentially devastating sequelae of tethered cord syndrome, investigation of cerebrospinal fluid flow dynamics may be beneficial before operative intervention in patients with risk factors for a tethered cord who exhibit adult-onset Chiari malformation.

Keywords: Chiari decompression; Chiari malformation; Spinal cord injury; Tethered cord syndrome.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Budd-Chiari Syndrome / surgery*
  • Decompression, Surgical / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Laminectomy / adverse effects*
  • Male
  • Neural Tube Defects / etiology*
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology
  • Syringomyelia / surgery*