Spinal Cord Malformations | Tampa General Hospital

Spinal Cord Malformations 

Spinal cord malformations are disorders of the spine that develop very early in life. 

Spinal cord malformations are clinically categorized as open or closed based on whether the abnormal nervous tissue is exposed to the environment or covered by skin. Babies born with spina bifida aperta (myelomeningocele) may have an open defect on their back where the skin over the spinal cord does not form correctly and the nerves are exposed. Spina bifida occulta is a bone abnormality that is not as severe as an open defect and may or may not cause symptoms. Other common spinal cord malformations include tethered spinal cord and abnormal spinal alignment. 

Causes of Spinal Cord Malformations 

Each spinal cord malformation has different causes and risk factors.  

For spina bifida, there isn’t one known cause. Instead, experts believe it may result from a combination of genetic, nutritional and environmental risk factors. These include: 

  • Folate deficiency 
  • Family history of neural tube defects 
  • Certain medications taken during pregnancy 
  • Diabetes 
  • Obesity 
  • Increased body temperature 

The causes of tethered spinal cord can be: 

  • Spina bifida aperta (myelomeningocele) 
  • Lipomyelomeningocele 
  • A dermal sinus tract (a rare congenital deformity) 
  • Diastematomyelia (split spinal cord) 
  • A lipoma (a benign, fatty growth) 
  • A tumor 
  • A thickened/tight filum terminale (a delicate filament near the tailbone) 
  • A history of spine trauma 
  • A history of spine surgery 

Finally, a person can be born with an abnormally curved spine due to a malfunction of the genes that regulate spinal development in the embryo. In some cases, spine abnormalities show up later as the child grows and develops.  

Symptoms of Spinal Cord Malformations 

Signs of congenital spine abnormalities can vary depending on a child’s specific condition. Some common symptoms include: 

  • Pain 
  • Numbness 
  • Tingling 
  • Breathing problems 
  • Difficulty walking 
  • Difficulty sitting 
  • Bathroom issues, such as accidents, incontinence and constipation 
  • Infections 

Diagnosis for Spinal Cord Malformations 

Various exams and tests can be done to diagnose spinal cord malformations, including: 

  • Clinical exams 
  • Imaging tests, such as CT scans, MRIs and EOS 
  • Urology exams 

Treatments for Spinal Cord Malformations 

Tampa General Hospital’s physicians and neurosurgeons can diagnose and treat spine disorders of any kind. There are many treatment options for children with spinal cord malformations, and all focus on reducing pain, restoring function and correcting harmful abnormalities. The most common treatment options include bracing and surgery.