top of page

Spina Bifida

Get Help


For assistance please contact your child's paediatrician.

Occupational therapist and physical therapist also work with special needs children.


You can also find more help through:


Albert Cecil Graham Development Centre

Ladymeade Gardens, Jemmotts Lane, St. Michael427-9514 or 436-9027 (F) 427-7448E-mail:

Spina bifida is a condition where the spine does not develop properly, leaving a gap in the spine.


There are several different types of spina bifida.


Spina bifida occulta

Spina bifida occulta is the most common and mildest type of spina bifida. The opening in the spine is very small and covered with skin. This means that the spinal cord and meninges can't push out and there is no obvious bulge in the back.


It doesn't usually cause any symptoms and most people are unaware they have it, although some people may have bladder and bowel problems, or weakness and reduced sensation in their legs.


What problems does it cause?

In most cases of myelomeningocele, surgery can be carried out to close the opening in the spine. However, damage to the nervous system will usually already have taken place.


The damage to the spinal cord can lead to problems such as:

  • weakness or total paralysis of the legs

  • bowel incontinence and urinary incontinence

  • loss of skin sensation in the legs and around the bottom


Many babies will have or will develop hydrocephalus (excess fluid on the brain), which can further damage the brain. Most people with spina bifida will have a normal intelligence, but learning difficulties are common, especially with hydrocephalus.

Read more about the symptoms of spina bifida and the complications of spina bifida.


How spina bifida is treated

A number of different treatments can be used to treat symptoms or conditions associated with spina bifida.

These include:


  • surgery soon after birth to close the opening in the spine and treat hydrocephalus

  • therapies to help make day-to-day life easier and improve independence, such as physiotherapy and occupational therapy

  • assistive devices and mobility aids, such as a manual or electric wheelchair, or walking aids

  • treatments for bowel and urinary problems, such as medication, draining urine from the bladder with a tube (catheter), anal irrigation systems and surgery


With appropriate treatment and support, it's likely that children with spina bifida will survive well into adulthood. It can be a challenging condition to live with, but many adults with spina bifida are able to lead independent and fulfilling lives.

Muscular Dystrophy 


There are many different types of muscular dystrophy (MD). All types cause muscle weakness, but the areas affected and the severity of the symptoms are different.


One of the most common types of MD is Duchenne muscular dystrophy and it affects boys.  Girls can occasionally be affected, although the condition tends to be milder in females.


Children with Duchenne MD usually start to have noticeable symptoms between one and three years of age. The muscles around their pelvis and thighs tend to be affected first and often appear bulkier than normal.


A child with Duchenne MD may:

  • have difficulty walking, running or jumping

  • have difficulty standing up

  • learn to speak later than usual

  • be unable to climb the stairs without support

  • have behavioural or learning difficulties


Children with Duchenne MD may need a wheelchair by the time they're 8-14 years old, as their muscles weaken and they lose the ability to walk. They can also develop scoliosis, where the spine begins to curve sideways. This can lead to one shoulder or hip being higher than the other.


By their mid-teens, some people with Duchenne MD will develop dilated cardiomyopathy. This condition affects the heart muscles, causing the heart's chambers to enlarge and the walls to get thinner.


By their late-teens or early 20s, people with Duchenne MD may start to have breathing problems. The condition can also affect the intercostal muscles (muscle tissue between the ribs) and the diaphragm (the large, thin sheet of muscle between the chest and abdomen). 


Once the heart and respiratory muscles are damaged, Duchenne MD becomes life-threatening. With medical care, most people with Duchenne MD die from heart or respiratory failure before or during their 30s.

bottom of page