Disparities in indications and outcomes reporting for pediatric tethered cord surgery: The need for a standardized outcome assessment tool

Childs Nerv Syst. 2024 Apr;40(4):1111-1120. doi: 10.1007/s00381-023-06246-y. Epub 2023 Dec 11.


Purpose: Tethered cord syndrome (TCS) is characterized by abnormal attachment of the spinal cord neural elements to surrounding tissues. The most common symptoms include pain, motor or sensory dysfunction, and urologic deficits. Although TCS is common in children, there is a significant heterogeneity in outcomes reporting. We systematically reviewed surgical indications and postoperative outcomes to assess the need for a grading/classification system.

Methods: PubMed and EMBASE searches identified pediatric TCS literature published between 1950 and 2023. Studies reporting surgical interventions, ≥ 6-month follow-up, and ≥ 5 patients were included.

Results: Fifty-five studies representing 3798 patients were included. The most commonly reported non-urologic symptoms were nonspecific lower-extremity motor disturbances (36.4% of studies), lower-extremity/back pain (32.7%), nonspecific lower-extremity sensory disturbances (29.1%), gait abnormalities (29.1%), and nonspecific bowel dysfunction/fecal incontinence (25.5%). Urologic symptoms were most commonly reported as nonspecific complaints (40.0%). After detethering surgery, retethering was the most widely reported non-urologic outcome (40.0%), followed by other nonspecific findings: motor deficits (32.7%), lower-extremity/back/perianal pain (18.2%), gait/ambulation function (18.2%), sensory deficits (12.7%), and bowel deficits/fecal incontinence (12.7%). Commonly reported urologic outcomes included nonspecific bladder/urinary deficits (27.3%), bladder capacity (20.0%), bladder compliance (18.2%), urinary incontinence/enuresis/neurogenic bladder (18.2%), and nonspecific urodynamics/urodynamics score change (16.4%).

Conclusion: TCS surgical literature is highly variable regarding surgical indications and reporting of postsurgical outcomes. The lack of common data elements and consistent quantitative measures inhibits higher-level analysis. The development and validation of a standardized outcomes measurement tool-ideally encompassing both patient-reported outcome and objective measures-would significantly benefit future TCS research and surgical management.

Keywords: Detethering; Pediatrics; Systematic review; Tethered cord syndrome.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Fecal Incontinence* / surgery
  • Humans
  • Neural Tube Defects* / surgery
  • Neurosurgical Procedures
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Pain
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Urinary Incontinence*