Tethered Spinal Cord: Tests and Diagnosis

What tests are used to diagnose spinal cord tethering?

An MRI of the low back is the most definitive test for spinal cord tethering, and often the only test needed. This test uses magnetic fields to give a very clear picture of the anatomy of the spine.

An ultrasound of the low back can be performed in infants 4 months old and younger. The advantage of ultrasound is that sedation is not needed; the disadvantage is that ultrasound can miss cases of spinal cord tethering.

For older children with bladder symptoms, an evaluation by a urologist is recommended. This may include testing of how the bladder muscle and associated muscles are working.

What to expect from an MRI

An MRI is not a painful procedure, but it does require the patient to hold still while inside of the machine for about 45 minutes – which is why most children and all infants require sedation during the scan.

Why choose Children’s Hospital Colorado to test for a tethered spinal cord?

Children’s Colorado has the most experience in the state of Colorado and the surrounding seven-state region with evaluations for tethered spinal cord. Our radiology department frequently performs MRIs for this condition, and all of the children who need sedation are cared for by anesthesiologist specifically trained in and exclusively practicing pediatric anesthesia.

How do doctors at Children’s Colorado diagnose spinal cord tethering?

Our evaluation begins with discussing your child’s medical history and then doing a physical examination to determine whether a further test is needed. In most cases, only an MRI is required to diagnose spinal cord tethering.