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Spinal dysraphism

Spinal conditions

HCA UK’s team of experts can diagnose and treat your child if you think that they may have spinal dysraphism.


Spinal dysraphism describes any form of spinal condition and occurs early on in a foetus’s development, during the first month of pregnancy. It describes what happens when the backbone, or spinal column, fails to form properly, and affects the spine, spinal cord or nerve roots.

Need to know

  • Symptoms of spinal dysraphism icon plus

    Spinal dysraphism does not always present symptoms, and symptoms will depend on the type of condition.
    • myelomeningoceleor spina bifida aperta, can cause leg weakness, incontinence, sensory loss and paralysis
    • split cord malformation or diastematomyelia, can be indicated by scoliosis, or curved spine
    • spinal cord lipoma or lipomyelomeningocele, may include problems with bowel and bladder function, urinary tract infections, back and leg pain, weakness, and sensory loss.
    • tethered cord symptoms vary, but often include: leg weakness, sensory loss, low back and leg pain, and bowel or bladder incontinence
    • spina bifida occulta rarely causes symptoms
  • Diagnosis icon plus

    Some forms of spinal dysraphism are detected in pregnancy by ultrasound, or can be seen in new born babies. Others, such as spina bifida occulta, sometimes cause visible signs such as thickened skin or a patch of hair over the defect.

    Other spinal dysraphism conditions which affect, for example, the curvature of the spine, mobility or incontinence, are more likely to be diagnosed in slightly older children.

    Diagnostic tests to confirm particular conditions might include MRI scans to produce a more detailed picture of spinal tissue and areas affected.
  • Potential treatment options icon plus

    Your consultant will discuss the most suitable course of treatment for your child, which is likely to involve surgery for your child’s specific condition.

    For example, if your child’s spinal cord is not contained in the spinal column and sticks outside the body, surgery will protect the spinal cord from further damage, remove any problem areas and restore the structure as much as possible.

    Surgery for tethered cord involves opening the spinal column via a laminectomy to reveal its location and then working carefully to release the constriction.

Types of spinal dysraphism


Also known as spina bifida aperta, this is when the spinal cord is not contained within the spinal column, but protrudes outside the body.

Spina bifida occulta

This is when one or more vertebrae has a slight defect, but the spinal cord and surrounding membranes are unaffected.


Also called split cord malformation, a spinal cord can be split by a piece of bone or cartilage piercing the spinal cord space.


This is also called spinal cord lipoma, where fat tissue attaches to the spinal cord and surrounding tissue.

Tethered cord

This means that the spinal cord cannot move freely in the spinal column, as it is ‘tied’ at the base.

Dermal sinus tract

This is a channel or dimple in the skin over the spine which may cause spinal cord tethering or abnormal growths in the spinal cord.

Our consultants

We're proud to work with leading experts across a range of medical fields, whose skills are matched by their integrity and compassion.
Consultant in theatres

Our facilities

From complex surgery to straightforward procedures, we provide exceptional care across our network of hospitals, outpatient centres and specialist clinics.

  • The Princess Grace Hospital

    42-52 Nottingham Place

    London W1U 5NY

    Appointments 020 7908 8001
    General enquiries 020 7486 1234

  • The Wellington Hospital - South Building

    The Wellington Hospital

    Wellington Place

    London NW8 9LE

    Appointments 020 7483 5148
    General enquiries 020 7586 5959

  • London Bridge Hospital

    London Bridge Hospital

    27 Tooley Street


    SE1 2PR

    Appointments & Enquiries 020 7234 2009
    Imaging Appointments 020 7234 2773

  • The HSC exterior

    The Harley Street Clinic

    35 Weymouth Street

    London  W1G 8BJ

    Appointments 020 7935 7700
    General enquiries 020 7034 8181

  • The Portland Hospital

    205 - 209 Great Portland Street


    W1W 5AH

    Children's enquiries 020 7390 8020
    Maternity enquiries 020 7390 6068
    Gynaecology enquiries 020 7390 6200

  • The Lister Hospital

    Chelsea Bridge Road


    SW1W 8RH

    Appointments 020 7730 8298
    General enquiries 020 7730 7733

  • HCA UK at The Wilmslow Hospital

    52-54 Alderley Road


    SK9 1NY

    Appointments 020 7483 5148
    General enquiries 01615 160 961

  • London Bridge Hospital Facility

    HCA UK at The Shard

    The Shard, 32 St Thomas Street


    SE1 9BS

    Call 020 3131 6888
    Opening hours 7:30 - 20:00 Monday - Friday

  • Institute of Sport Exercise and Health Facility

    Institute of Sport Exercise and Health

    170 Tottenham Court Road


    W1T 7HA

    Call 020 3447 2800
    [Mon | Weds | Fri] 8am - 8pm
    [Tues | Thurs] 8am - 8pm

Request an appointment

We're happy to help you make an appointment with one of our experienced consultants.

020 7079 4344
This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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