Orthopedic Surgery

Benign Musculoskeletal Tumors That Can Affect the Spine: An Overview

Benign musculoskeletal tumors that can affect the spine are abnormal growths or masses of cells in or surrounding the spinal cord. They are very rare in children.

Although benign musculoskeletal tumors are not cancerous like malignant musculoskeletal tumors, they can still cause serious problems for children. Benign musculoskeletal tumors can grow — sometimes quickly — and damage a child’s spinal cord or other bones during crucial developmental years.

At The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, we have extensive experience diagnosing and treating children with a wide range of benign musculoskeletal tumors that can affect the spine, including:

Causes of benign musculoskeletal tumors

The causes of benign musculoskeletal are often unknown, but the growth may be linked to:

Primary vs. secondary spinal tumors

Tumors that start in spinal tissue are called primary spinal tumors. Musculoskeletal tumors that spread to the spine from other places (e.g., lung) are called secondary spinal tumors.

Either primary or secondary tumors can be benign or malignant (cancerous). Primary spinal tumors often progress slowly over months to years. Secondary spinal tumors often progress quickly.

Symptoms of benign musculoskeletal tumors

Symptoms of benign musculoskeletal tumors depend on a variety of factors including the type of tumor, location of the tumor, and your child’s age and general health.

Indications of a spinal cord tumor, however, may include:

Tumors in the spinal cord may cause diffuse symptoms. Tumors outside the spinal cord may grow for a long time before becoming symptomatic. 

Diagnosing benign musculoskeletal tumors

Symptoms of a benign musculoskeletal tumor can be difficult to identify in children, so regular check-ups are extremely important. Diagnostic evaluation begins with a thorough medical history and physical examination of your child.

A detailed neurological assessment may also be performed. This involves a series of questions and tests to check the brain, spinal cord and nerve function.

At The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, clinical experts use a variety of diagnostic tests to diagnose tumors, including: 

Individualized, collaborative treatment

At The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, we practice collaborative, family-centered care. A team of expert clinicians — including leading orthopedic physicians and surgeons, advanced practice providers, pediatric nurses, physical and occupational therapists, psychologists and other specialists — will partner with you in the care of your child.

The team is led by orthopedic surgeon John P. Dormans, MD, FACS, chief of the Division of Orthopedic Surgery, who has led and participated in many studies in the area of pediatric spinal problems, including spinal tumors.

Treatment of benign tumors

In many cases, benign tumors need no treatment. Physicians may simply use “watchful waiting” to make sure the tumors do not cause pain or dysfunction. 

However, treatment may be needed if symptoms are a problem. The goal of treatment — whether surgical or nonsurgical — of a spine tumor is to reduce or prevent nerve damage from pressure on the spinal cord. The faster symptoms develop; the sooner treatment is needed to prevent permanent injury.

Treatment options for benign tumors affecting the spine include:

Though surgery for a benign tumor is highly effective, we understand that any surgery can be a stressful experience for children and families. At CHOP, we offer a wealth of resources about how to prepare your child for surgery and what to expect during surgery.

Additionally, we employ numerous best practices before, during and after surgery to decrease the risk of infection and increase positive outcomes. For more details about safety protocols at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, see safety in surgery.

Follow-up care for benign spinal tumors

Most children are able to go home shortly after surgery. They may require pain medications until the surgical site heals, but most are encouraged to resume their regular daily activities, like school, social events and play.

Your child will see the orthopedic surgeon about one to two weeks after surgery, then again at three and six months post-surgery. Annual monitoring by trained clinicians is strongly encouraged to monitor for possible recurrence of the growth.

Benign spinal tumors have the potential to reoccur, and some may become malignant months or years after successfully treated, so it is important for your child to see a physician regularly, especially if any symptoms reoccur.

During follow-up visits, X-rays and other diagnostic testing may be done to monitor your child’s health.

Follow-up care and ongoing support and services are available at our Main Campus and throughout our CHOP Care Network. Our team is committed to partnering with parents and referring physicians to provide the most current, comprehensive and specialized care possible for your child.

Long-term outcomes

Outcomes for children treated for benign spinal tumors are typically good, but largely depend on the type of tumor, location and whether it reoccurs after treatment.

Early diagnosis and treatment of spinal tumors can produce improved outcomes for pediatric patients and avoid some growth-related issues.

With recent advances in treatment options, surgical instruments and surgical techniques, spinal cord tumors in children can be managed well and successfully treated.


For more information on tumors, spinal tumors and spinal deformities, visit:

Contact us

To make an appointment with the Division of Orthopedic Surgery at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, call 215-590-1527 or contact us online.

Reviewed by: Jason L. Katz, PA-C, MHS, ATC-R, and John P. Dormans, MD, FACS
Date: January 2013 

  • Print
  • Share

Contact Us

Working Together
to Help Your Child

CHOP's Division of Orthopedic Surgery works closely with the Cancer Center to diagnose and treat children with benign and malignant tumors. Learn more about the Cancer Center at CHOP