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What is Spina Bifida?

Spina Bifida is a fault in the spinal column in which one or more veterbrae (the bones which form the backbone) fail to form properly, leaving a gap or split, causing damage to the nervous system.

To help understand Spina Bifida in detail it is necessary to know the composition of the nervous system.

The Central Nervous System

The central nervous system and spine develop between the 14th and 23rd day after conception. It consists of the brain and the spinal cord. All activities are controlled by the brain which receives information from touching, seeing, feeling, tasting and hearing - responding to this information by initiating the appropriate movements of different parts of the body. Messages from the brain are carried to different parts of the body by the spinal cord which runs down the centre of the spinal column. This communication system for the body is very important and needs protection.

The Spine

The spine is made up of 33 bones or vertebrae. The vertebrae have two main functions. One is to provide anchorage for muscles so that we can move as messages from the brain are sent to those muscles. The other is to provide protection to the spinal cord.

The Neural Tube

The central nervous system and spine develops between the 14th and 23rd day after conception. Spina bifida occurs when the neural tube fails to close correctly. The vertebrae also fail to close in complete rings around the affected portion of the spinal cord. This leaves a gap at the back, involving one or more vertebrae. The fault may occur in one or more of the vertebrae but it is most common around waist-level.

Spina Bifida is one of a range of conditions all included under the umbrella term of "Neural Tube Defects".

The information in this section is available in a leaflet, “What is Spina Bifida”. This may be downloaded in PDF format from our library.

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