Some Spina Bifida-Related Orthopedic Problems

Many people who suffer from spina bifida and other chronic illnesses know all too well that the corollary consequences of the birth defect may be almost as bad as the condition that caused them. Since it is a birth defect that involves the spinal cord, it’s not surprising that spina bifida often causes some orthopedic issues. Some specific causes include excess pressure on the spine, poor blood circulation, subtle neurological changes, and edema (swelling) in the lower extremities.

The good news is that the resulting orthopedic illnesses can be quite manageable given the proper approach.

Arthritic Knees

For the most part, the advanced treatments available to spina bifida victims enable them to live much longer and more active lives. Unfortunately, as its victims progress into adulthood, spina bifida sometimes creates new problems that prior generations did not have to deal with.

Spina bifida creates a lifelong wobbly gait that often places excess pressure on the lower joints, particularly the knees. The stress often creates osteoarthritis, a degenerative condition that involves chronic inflammation of the knee joint. That usually causes persistent pain and loss of mobility. Understandably, most people like to walk unassisted for as long as possible. The resulting on stress on the knees when walking without crutches often makes arthritis worse.

To partially reverse this cycle and reduce dependence on pain medications that may aggravate other medical conditions, there are a number of non-medical arthritis remedies that have some very pleasant side effects.

  • Walking: Anything that involves moving stiff and painful joints may not seem like a good idea, but as little as thirty minutes of reasonably brisk walking per day substantially loosens knee joints, relieving discomfort and adding range of motion.

  • Tai Chi/Yoga: These slow-movement exercises essentially combine the physical benefits of walking with the mental benefits of meditation and relaxation. If arthritis sufferers focus on something other than their pain for a few minutes, there is often a long-lasting effect which is roughly the same as an opioid pain pill.

  • Diet: Many foods, such as fish, nuts, olive oil, and whole grains, are natural anti-inflammatories. The effect will not be immediate, but relief builds up over time. These foods also have benefits in terms of health management and weight management, which leads us to. . .

  • Weight Control: Anything that relieves the pressure on knee joints is a good thing. Even a few pounds per month make a substantial difference. Moreover, there is emerging evidence that fat cells contain various toxins. These substances may especially create significant problems for people with other medical conditions, such as spina bifida.

Spina bifida-related knee osteoarthritis cannot be cured or even treated effectively, but its symptoms are very manageable.


Surgery can often correct this unnatural sideways curvature in the spine, provided that the condition is diagnosed soon enough. Other related conditions that pediatric surgery may resolve include:

  • Kyphosis (hunchback),

  • Unilateral talipes equinovarus (one club foot), and

  • Bilateral talipes equinovarus.

In other situations, strengthening the muscles near the base of the spine may correct these conditions without surgery or at least provide some relief if surgery is not an option.

Arthritic Shoulders

Some spina bifida patients who are only in their 20s have significant problems due to arthritic shoulders. Something as routine as a torn rotator cuff, which is usually not much more than an inconvenience, can necessitate long-term care. In other cases, the shoulder and other joints become hyperextended because many spina bifida patients have little or no sensation in these areas. The effect is even worse if the patient uses the shoulders to ambulate.

Frozen shoulder is one of the more common spina bifida-related shoulder ailments. This condition is extremely painful, and the inflammation also causes loss of mobility. Extensive physical therapy usually alleviates the symptoms of frozen shoulder and other such conditions.

Most spina bifida patients are willing to accept side ailments if it means a longer and more active life. Some common-sense approaches make these conditions more bearable, further tipping the scales in the patient’s direction.


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