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Spina Bifida

Spina bifida develops before birth, but its impact is lifelong. TIRR Memorial Hermann brings together leading clinicians and scientists, and advanced medical research and technology, to deliver the most advanced care and treatments available for spina bifida. Our goal? To help individuals living with spina bifida, from infancy through adulthood, live as productively and independently as possible, and with the greatest quality of life.

What is spina bifida

Spina bifida is birth defect characterized by the abnormal development of the spinal cord and/or meninges, the protective covering around the brain and spinal cord. According to the March of Dimes, it is the most common neural tube defect (birth defects of the brain and spinal cord) in the United States, affecting about 1,500 babies born in the U.S. each year. Infants born with spina bifida may suffer loss of sensation or paralysis, difficulty walking and other problems that can lead to lifelong disability.

What are the types of spina bifida?

According to the March of Dimes, there are four types of spina bifida:

Spina bifida occulta (also known as hidden spina bifida) is the mildest form. The gap in the spine is small, and the spinal cord and nerves stay in place, usually undamaged.

Closed neural tube defectis a condition in which the fat, bone or meninges around the spinal cord form incorrectly, sometimes damaging the nerves in the spinal cord. While the condition often causes no symptoms, some babies may have problems controlling their bladder or bowels.

Meningocele, the rarest form, is a condition in which the meninges push out through the gap in the spine, creating a fluid-filled sac (called a meningocele) on the baby’s back, which can be surgically removed. While there’s usually little or no nerve damage, some babies may have problems controlling their bladder or bowels.

Myelomeningocele (also known as open spina bifida) is the most severe and most common form. In this condition, part of the spinal cord pushes out with the meninges through the gap in the spine to form a sac on the baby’s back, damaging the spinal cord and nearby nerves. As this condition can cause paralysis and life-threatening infections, babies with the condition require surgery before birth or in the first few days of life. Even with surgery, babies with this condition have lasting disabilities, such as problems walking or going to the bathroom.

What rehabilitation therapies are available for spina bifida?

Some children may require intensive therapies and medical treatment throughout their lives due to the range of complications associated with the defect, including hydrocephalus (an accumulation of fluid in the brain), neuromuscular issues, lack of bladder and bowel control, depression, weight issues, mobility issues and learning disabilities.

TIRR Memorial Hermann provides patients of all ages with spina bifida with comprehensive, multidisciplinary rehabilitation services, including:

  • Physical therapy (PT) programs improve gross motor skills and may include training with specialized orthotics
  • Occupational therapy (OT) to improve fine motor skills for use in conducting activities of daily living
  • Speech therapy for patients with speech and swallowing difficulties
  • Recreational therapy to promote socialization, physical fitness, weight control and independence

What are the benefits of rehabilitation for spina bifida?

  • Physical therapy helps improve a child’s strength, coordination, balance and mobility.
  • Occupational therapy helps improve the child’s ability to perform everyday activities.
  • Speech therapy helps to increase a child’s oral motor skills and communication abilities through exercises that train the brain to pronounce, understand and interpret individual words, sounds, numbers and gestures.

Meet the Team

The affiliated spina bifida specialists at The Fetal Center at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital provide prenatal monitoring and in utero care for high-risk moms as well as pediatric care for newborns and children with spina bifida.

TIRR Memorial Hermann’s team of affiliated spinal cord injury (SCI) specialists treats adult patients with spina bifida.


In response to demand for Texas Medical Center-quality services closer to home, TIRR Memorial Hermann Pediatric Outpatient Rehabilitation now provides intensive and specialized services for children at five locations in the Greater Houston area:

Get Started

To get started, use this form to become a patient or contact us by phone 1 (800) 44-REHAB (73422) , (713) 797-5942 or fax 713.797.5988