Progressive posttraumatic myelomalacic myelopathy: Treatment with untethering and expansive duraplasty

Thomas T. Lee, Jose M. Arias, Heather L. Andrus, Robert M. Quencer, Steven F. Falcone, Barth A. Green

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Patients with progressive posttraumatic myelomalacic myelopathy (PPMM), or tethered cord syndrome, present with symptoms and signs similar to those observed in cases of progressive posttraumatic cystic myelopathy, that is, sensorimotor function deterioration, local and/or radicular pain, increased spasticity, increased autonomic dysreflexia, and sphincter dysfunction. The authors investigated surgical outcomes of untethering combined with expansive duraplasty. Forty patients with PPMM who presented with functional deterioration underwent untethering of the spinal cord and nerve roots with an expansive duraplasty. Meticulous dissections of adhesions on the dorsal and lateral aspects of the spinal cord and nerve roots were performed. Intraoperative ultrasonography was used to detect the presence of a confluent cyst and to assess the success of untethering. After surgery, the patients were treated using a protocol that involved frequent turning for 48 hours and subsequently mobilization. Preoperative magnetic resonance (MR) imaging, with and without administration of a contrast agent, was obtained in all patients, except one patient who underwent immediate and delayed computerized tomography (CT) myelography. The mean follow-up period was 3 years (range 20- 57 months) for the 36 patients available for follow-up review. Spinal cord tethering was observed in all patients preoperatively. Trauma was the most common cause of this pathology, accounting for 31 of the 40 cases. Preoperative MR imaging did not demonstrate tumor recurrence in the group of five patients who had undergone an initial operation for tumor excision. The interval between the causative event and the operation was less than 5 years in half of the patients (20 of 40), with the longest interval lasting up to 37 years. Motor function deterioration was the most frequent manifestation; it was present in 31 of 40 patients. Improvements in motor function, autonomic dysreflexia, pain, sphincter dysfunction, and sensory function were found during the most recent follow-up examination in 79%, 75%, 62%, 50%, and 43% of the patients, respectively. Two patients experienced retethering of the spinal cord and one underwent a second operation. Surgical untethering and expansive duraplasty, followed by postoperative position rotation to avoid retethering, provide symptomatic relief for patients with PPMM.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)624-628
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of neurosurgery
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1997


  • expansive duraplasty
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • progressive posttraumatic myelomalacic myelopathy
  • progressive posttraumatic myelopathy
  • tethered spinal cord
  • ultrasonography
  • untethering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neuroscience(all)


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