Spina Bifida

Spina bifida is a condition that affects the spinal cord and nerves, often presenting unique physical and emotional hurdles for children and their families. Understanding this condition is the first step in providing the best care and support for affected children. Thankfully, there are available treatment options to minimize the effects of pediatric spina bifida.

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pediatric therapist assisting a child in a wheelchair
young girl practicing art with a therapist for pediatric spina bifida

What is Spina Bifida?

Spina bifida is a congenital condition where the neural tube, which typically closes during early fetal development, fails to do so completely. This results in a gap or opening in the spinal column, through which the spinal cord and its protective covering may protrude. The severity of spina bifida can vary greatly, with the mildest form being spina bifida occulta, characterized by a small gap in the spine, and the most severe being Myelomeningocele, where a significant portion of the spinal cord is exposed.

What are Signs of Spina Bifida?

The signs and symptoms of spina bifida can vary depending on the type and severity of the condition. Some common signs include:

  1. Visible Spinal Defect: In severe cases, there may be a visible sac or lump on the baby’s back, which contains the exposed spinal cord.
  2. Motor and Sensory Impairments: Children with spina bifida often experience muscle weakness, paralysis, and sensory deficits in the lower limbs. The extent of these impairments depends on the location and size of the spinal lesion.
  3. Hydrocephalus: Many children with spina bifida also develop hydrocephalus, a condition in which excess cerebrospinal fluid accumulates in the brain, leading to an enlarged head and increased intracranial pressure.
  4. Bowel and Bladder Dysfunction: Spina bifida can cause problems with bowel and bladder control, leading to incontinence and the need for catheterization.

Common Causes of Spina Bifida in Children

The exact cause of spina bifida is not fully understood, but several factors are believed to contribute to its development. These include:

  • Genetic Factors: There is evidence to suggest that genetics play a role in the risk of spina bifida. Families with a history of neural tube defects are at a higher risk.
  • Folate Deficiency: A deficiency in folic acid during early pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk of spina bifida. Hence, pregnant women are often advised to take folic acid supplements.
  • Environmental Factors: Some environmental factors, such as exposure to certain chemicals and medications during pregnancy, may also increase the risk.

How Does Spina Bifida Affect a Child?

Spina Bifida can have a profound impact on a child’s life. The effects of the condition can be both physical and neurological. Here are some ways in which Spina Bifida affects children:

  1. Mobility Challenges: Children with Spina Bifida often face mobility challenges due to muscle weakness and paralysis in the lower limbs. They may require mobility aids such as wheelchairs or leg braces.
  2. Neurological Impairments: Depending on the severity of the condition, children with Spina Bifida may experience varying degrees of neurological impairment, including difficulty with sensation, coordination, and reflexes.
  3. Bladder and Bowel Issues: Many children with Spina Bifida struggle with bladder and bowel control, which can lead to social skill issues and psychological challenges.
  4. Orthopedic Problems: Spina Bifida can also lead to orthopedic issues such as scoliosis (curvature of the spine) and joint deformities.
  5. Hydrocephalus: Hydrocephalus, which often accompanies Spina Bifida, can cause increased pressure on the brain and may require surgical intervention.


Young patient therapy at a clinic with help of a therapist for spina bifida

What Happens if Spina Bifida is Left Untreated?

Without medical intervention, the exposed spinal cord remains vulnerable to infections, potentially leading to severe conditions like meningitis. Neurological function may continue to deteriorate, resulting in more profound motor and sensory deficits, making it increasingly challenging for a child to perform everyday activities. Untreated spina bifida can also result in severe orthopedic issues, including debilitating joint deformities and severe scoliosis, further compromising a child’s mobility and quality of life.

How Does Pediatric Therapy Help Spina Bifida?

Pediatric therapy plays a vital role in improving the lives of children with spina bifida. Occupational therapy and physical therapy both contribute to the well-being of these children.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy is tailored to address the specific challenges associated with the condition, focusing on promoting functional independence in daily activities that might be affected. Pediatric occupational therapists work closely with these children to enhance fine motor skills, which are often compromised due to spinal cord issues. Beyond physical aspects, occupational therapy offers vital emotional support and coping strategies, helping children navigate the unique emotional challenges associated with the condition.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is designed to strengthen muscles and improve mobility, specifically addressing the muscle weaknesses and mobility limitations often present in spina bifida. Physical therapists offer specialized gait training and balance exercises to address the unique challenges related to walking, which is often affected in these children. Moreover, pediatric physical therapy employs pain management techniques tailored to spina bifida, such as addressing discomfort from musculoskeletal issues or surgeries.

Pediatric Therapy for Spina Bifida with Circle of Care

If your child is living with spina bifida, remember that you’re not alone on this journey. At Circle of Care, we’re dedicated to providing specialized pediatric therapy tailored to the unique needs of children. Contact Circle of Care today to schedule a consultation or learn more about our comprehensive range of services.