About the Condition

Spina bifida is a congenital defect of the neural tube(i), where the neural tube fails to develop or close properly, resulting in defects of the spinal cord and vertebrae. The severity of the defect depends on the size and location of defect, whether skin covers it and which spinal nerves come out of affected area and can be classified into three categories of Spina bifida.

The first two, Spina bifida occulta and Spina bifida meningocle are the mild forms of Spina bifida. Occulta does not involve damage to nerves so many people with this condition don’t know they have it.

Meningocle is the rarest form of Spina bifida that occurs when the meninges(ii) surrounding the spinal cord push out through openings in the vertebrae. The spinal cord still develops normally so the defect can be fixed with surgery with little to no damage to the nerves

(i) – The part of the embryo that develops into the brain and spinal cord and their surrounding tissues
(ii) – Protective membrane around the spinal cord

Mylomeningocle is the most severe form of Spina bifida and what is normally what the term “Spina bifida” colloquially refers to. In this form of Spina bifida, the spinal canal stays open along lower vertebrae, which causes both the spine and membrane to protrude at birth, forming a sac on the baby’s back.

Sometimes this protrusion is covered by skin but typically tissues and nerves are exposed making the baby easily susceptible to life threatening infections. This form commonly has neurological and physical impairments that go with it.


  • Muscle weakness- including partial and total paralysis.
  • Deformed feet.
  • Seizures.
  • Uneven hips.
  • Scoliosis.

Other symptoms include:

  • Prone to infections.
  • Lack of bladder/bowel control.
  • Learning disabilities.
  • Difficulty paying attention.
  • Language and reading comprehension problems.
  • Difficulty learning math.
  • Depression.
  • Latex allergies.
  • Skin conditions.
  • Urinary tract infections.
  • GI disorders.

Useful Tips for Patients & Caregivers

Learn as much as you can about the patient’s Spina bifida as early as possible from specialised physicians and make changes in your home and lifestyle to accommodate your baby.  In cases where patients do not have complete paralysis, physical and occupational therapy can help delay the onset of muscle weakness and give the patient some independence.  Encourage the patient to be social and to engage in activities with their peers that are within their physical limitations and capabilities.

The following tips may help too;

  • Involve physical and occupational therapists, social workers and psychologists in your care plans.
  • Seek early intervention for education to help your child overcome any learning difficulties.
  • Involve tutors if necessary.
  • Become familiar with symptoms of urinary tract infections.
  • Check for rashes and other skin problems regularly.
  • Get flu vaccines annually.

Selecting the Right Chair

It is very important that the chair is adjustable to allow it to meet the changing needs of the person as their condition changes.  Cognitive problems may reduce their ability to ‘learn’ new products and operations and so having a chair that will adjust easily and to which you can add accessories will ensure continuity and familiarity.

The Phoenix™ in particular is designed to suit the needs of those with spina bifida, and this is also available as part of our Kidz Range, as well as for adults.  This Seating Matters chair is highly adjustable and all accessories can be included at a later date if they are not needed at the initial assessment.  This allows the chair to meet changing needs over a long period of time.  The Phoenix is great for individuals with spina bifida because it can mould to the shape of the individual providing full body loading, optimum pressure management and support.

The Phoenix comes in manual and powered options.  Manual adjustment leaves the control of the seating positions to the caregiver. Partially motorized options give the user of the chair more independent control to change the angle of tilt in space and their leg elevation as and when desired.  Fully motorized options give the user of the chair control to change the angle of tilt in space, their leg elevation and the back angle recline as and when desired.

Bear in mind, each person is different and so you must use clinical judgement, knowledge of the patient, environmental considerations and personal preferences before deciding on which Seating Matters chair to use.