Glossary term:

Spina bifida

During development, at each level of the spine two plates of bone migrate towards one another and fuse, in the midline, forming what are referred to as spinous processes. It is the tips of these spinous processes that we feel when running a finger down our spines. Sometimes one or more of the pairs of plates fail to fuse adequately, such that two, shorter spinous processes form on each side of the midline. This is what is referred to as spina bifida. It affects most commonly the lower part of the spine, in the lumbar region. Many people may quite unaware that they have such split (or, more specifically, never joined), spinous processes. Plain radiographs, or magnetic resonance imaging, may reveal such an abnormality as an incidental finding. At the other end of the spectrum, severe and extensive spina bifida affects not only the bony elements but also neural elements of the spine, with the formation of meningocœles and myelomeningocœles. Less severe associated neural abnormalities include a low-lying cord and diastematomyelia.
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