Perioperative complications and secondary retethering after pediatric tethered cord release surgery

J Neurosurg Pediatr. 2023 Aug 11;32(5):607-616. doi: 10.3171/2023.6.PEDS23259. Print 2023 Nov 1.


Objective: Tethered cord syndrome refers to a constellation of symptoms characterized by neurological, musculoskeletal, and urinary symptoms, caused by traction on the spinal cord, which can be secondary to various etiologies. Surgical management of simple tethered cord etiologies (e.g., fatty filum) typically consists of a single-level lumbar laminectomy, intradural exploration, and coagulation and sectioning of the filum. More complex etiologies such as lipomyelomeningoceles or scar formation after myelomeningocele repair involve complex dissection and dural reconstruction. The purpose of this study was to evaluate operative complications and long-term outcomes of secondary retethering related to pediatric tethered cord release (TCR) at a tertiary children's hospital.

Methods: Medical records of children who underwent surgery for TCR from July 2014 to March 2023 were retrospectively reviewed. Data collected included demographics, perioperative characteristics, surgical technique, and follow-up duration. Primary outcomes were 60-day postoperative complications and secondary retethering requiring repeat TCR surgery. Univariate and multivariate analyses were performed to identify risk factors associated with complications and secondary retethering.

Results: A total of 363 TCR surgeries (146 simple, 217 complex) in 340 patients were identified. The mean follow-up was 442.8 ± 662.2 days for simple TCRs and 733.9 ± 750.3 days for complex TCRs. The adjusted 60-day complication-free survival rate was 96.3% (95% CI 91.3%-98.4%) for simple TCRs and 88.7% (95% CI 82.3%-91.4%) for complex TCRs. Lower weight, shorter surgical times, and intensive care unit admission were associated with complications for simple TCRs. Soft-tissue drains increased complications for complex TCRs. The secondary retethering rates were 1.4% for simple TCRs and 11.9% for complex TCRs. The 1-, 3-, and 5-year progression-free survival rates in complex cases were 94.7% (95% CI 89.1%-97.4%), 77.7% (95% CI 67.3%-85.3%), and 62.6% (95% CI 46.5%-75.1%), respectively. Multivariate analysis revealed that prior detethering (OR 8.15, 95% CI 2.33-28.50; p = 0.001) and use of the operative laser (OR 10.43, 95% CI 1.36-80.26; p = 0.024) were independently associated with secondary retethering in complex cases.

Conclusions: This is the largest series to date examining postoperative complications and long-term secondary retethering in TCR surgery. Simple TCR surgeries demonstrated safety, rare complications, and low secondary retethering rates. Complex TCR surgeries presented higher risks of complications and secondary retethering. Modifiable risk factors such as operative laser use influenced secondary retethering in complex cases.

Keywords: complications; fatty filum; lipomyelomeningocele; myelomeningocele; spinal lipoma; spine; tethered cord.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Humans
  • Neural Tube Defects* / etiology
  • Neurosurgical Procedures* / adverse effects
  • Neurosurgical Procedures* / methods
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology
  • Postoperative Complications / surgery
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell