Spina bifida

What is spina bifida?

Spina bifida (Latin: "split spine") is a developmental congenital disorder caused by the incomplete closing of the embryonic neural tube. Some vertebrae overlying the spinal cord are not fully formed and remain unfused and open. If the opening is large enough, this allows a portion of the spinal cord to protrude through the opening in the bones to an open or closed lesion on the skin. 

Spina bifida malformations fall into three categories:

  • Spina bifida occulta,
  • Spina bifida cystica with Meningocele, 
  • Spina bifida cystica with Myelomeningocele.

The most common location of the malformations is the lumbar and sacral areas of the Spine.

Myelomeningocele is the most significant and common form, and this leads to disability in most affected individuals. The terms Spina bifida and Myelomeningocele are usually used interchangeably.

Babies born with Spina bifida can have varying degrees of ambulatory problems, loss of sensation to lower limbs, and will likely have difficulties achieving normal continence for bladder and bowel. They may have other neurological complications such as Hydrocephalus. Young people and adults living with Spina bifida and Hydrocephalus may have difficulties with executive functions such as planning and organising which can impact on their learning and independence.

Spina bifida is a birth defect of the neural tube and the spine and spinal cord are damaged. There are several types of spina bifida but the most common is myelomeningocele.  Muscles, organs and bodily functions are affected.  Children may have ambulatory problems, loss of sensation, deformities of the hips, knees or feet, and loss of muscle tone. They may have  neurological compications and young people may have difficulties with executive functions such as planning and organising.


How do we help children who have spina bifida?

The Sydney Children's Hospital Network offers services to children and young people living with Spina Bifida as part of their rehabilitation programs. The following statement outlines the underlying principles for the provision of rehabilitation services across the Network.

  • Regular multi-disciplinary reviews and interventions to maximise the children’s and young person’s health, function and independent living.