Understanding spina bifida

Spina bifida is a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord don't form properly. It's a type of neural tube defect (NTD). The neural tube is the structure in a developing embryo that eventually becomes the baby's brain, spinal cord and the tissues that enclose them. 

Spina bifida might cause physical and intellectual disabilities that range from mild to severe. The severity depends on: 

  • the size and location of the opening in the spine. 
  • whether part of the spinal cord and nerves are affected. 

Spina bifida is one of the most common birth defects in Australia, with around 150 babies are born with spina bifida each year. 

NTDs occur in the first weeks of pregnancy while the brain and spinal cord are forming. Treatment of individuals who have spina bifida includes surgery, medication and physiotherapy. There is no cure for spina bifida as the nerve tissue cannot be replaced or repaired.

The symptoms of spina bifida vary from person to person, but can cause:  

  • leg weakness 
  • loss of feeling in parts of the skin 
  • bladder or bowel incontinence 
  • learning difficulties 

Closed neural tube defects are often recognized early in life due to an abnormal tuft or clump of hair or a small dimple or birthmark on the skin at the site of the spinal malformation.

Contact us today

Give us a call on 1800 275 753 to discuss your support needs with our Allied Health team, or send an online enquiry and we'll be in touch.

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How can CPL help?

Just diagnosed with spina bifida

Early Intervention Therapy

All types of spina bifida happen in the first month of pregnancy with the condition ranging from mild to severe. CPL's early intervention services can help support you and your family to develop strategies for mobility, communication and other developmental milestones.


The NDIS Early Childhood Early Intervention (ECEI) approach supports children aged 0-6 years who have a developmental delay or disability and their families/carers. Support Coordinators can help you to navigate your first NDIS plan.


Teenagers and adults with spina bifida

Independent living

CPL provides 24/7 Supported Independent Living services, and has a number of vacancies in accessible homes.

Employment and Training opportunities

There are a range of disability employment and training pathways for people with spina bifida designed to help you reach your goals.