Research Article: Surgical Treatment of a Patient with Human Tail and Multiple Abnormalities of the Spinal Cord and Column

Date Published: October 18, 2011

Publisher: SAGE-Hindawi Access to Research

Author(s): Chunquan Cai, Ouyan Shi, Changhong Shen.


The dorsal cutaneous appendage, or so-called human tail, is often considered to be a cutaneous marker of underlying occult dysraphism. The authors present a case of human tail occurring in a 9-month-old infant with multiple abnormalities of the spinal cord and spine. Examination revealed unremarkable except for a caudal appendage and a dark pigmentation area in the low back. Neuroradiological scans revealed cleft vertebrae and bifid ribbon, split cord malformations, block vertebrae, and hemivertebra. Surgical excision of the tail and untethering the spinal cord by removal of the septum were performed. The infant had an uneventful postoperative period and was unchanged neurologically for 18 months of followup. To our knowledge, no similar case reports exist in the literature. The specific features in a rare case with a human tail treated surgically are discussed in light of the available literature.

Partial Text

A human tail is a rare congenital anomaly with a prominent lesion from the lumbosacrococcygeal region. Many authors saw this curious and rare condition to be evidence of man’s descent from or relation to other animals, while others made it the subject of superstition. Advanced imaging technology in recent decades has allowed a more thorough investigation of these patients and better defined their association with spinal dysraphism and tethered spinal cord [1]. In this case report, we describe an infant who had combined anomalies, consisting of a human tail and multiple abnormalities of the spinal cord and spine. We also reviewed the documents of the patient with reference to literatures.

A 9-month-old healthy male infant was brought for consultation for a “tail like” structure in the lumbosacral area since birth. On physical examination, the appendage was 5 cm long and was attached to the back tip of coccyx appearing like a human tail (Figure 1). A dark pigmentation area in the low back was also found (Figure 1). According to the parents, the tail was about 2 cm at birth and the size had been increasing with age. It was soft and nontender, covered with normal skin. No bony attachment or any voluntary movement was observed in the mass. His muscle strength, tone, and sensation were intact with normal reflexes present. There was normal rectal tone with an anal wink reflex present bilaterally. The infant was born after an uneventful pregnancy. There was no history of any illness, exposure to radiation, or taking any drug during pregnancy. He did not have any family history of congenital abnormality. Plain radiographs revealed cleft vertebrae of the ninth thoracic vertebrae, and bifid rib of the fourth rib (Figure 2(a)). Computed tomography (CT) scans showed split cord malformations, block vertebrae of the third and fourth vertebrae, and hemivertebra of the second sacral vertebrae (Figures 2(b) and 2(c)). Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) showed split cord malformations (Figure 2(d) and 2(e)). With the impression of human tail coexisting with type I split cord malformations, operation of resection of the tail, removing of the septum and spinal cord untethered, was done with continuous intraoperative monitoring of sensory evoked potentials and electromyogram recording of lower extremity and sphincter muscles. The tail was elliptically excised, and the subcutaneous portion sharply dissected from the dorsal lumbosacral fascia. Despite careful inspection for a fascial defect and subfascial extension of the tail structure, none was observed, and the tail was removed enbloc. The lumbar fascia was opened and L4–L5 laminoplasty performed. A bony septum originating from segmented lumbar vertebrae was found to divide the spinal cord. Two hemicords were shown to course within two separate dural sleeves (Figure 3). The spinal cord was untethered and decompressed by removal of the septum. The filum terminale was thickened and was transected. The other abnormalities of the spine were untreated. The infant was recovered uneventfully in the postoperative period. In the followup till 18 months, he was all right without any neurological deficit. His bowel and bladder habits were also normal.

The dorsal cutaneous appendage, or so-called human tail, is considered to be a marker of underlying intraspinal pathology of occult spinal dysraphism [2]. However, certain authors have considered these to be a benign stigma without any cord malformations [3]. There have been many previous reports to date that spinal dysraphism is usually accompanied by several anomalies, including skin protrusion, pigmentation, sinus formation, human tail, and subcutaneous or spinal lipomas [4]. As a consequence, a multitude of spinal cord and spine anomalies associations including spina bifida, meningocele, lipomeningoceles, myelomeningocele, intraspinal lipoma, spinal cord tethering, coccygeal vertebrae have been described in patients with human tail [1, 5–9]. But no report similar to our patient exists in the literature. The present case demonstrates a cutaneous marker in the form of a tail at the back tip of coccyx coexisting with split cord malformations.




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