Congenital Spinal Malformations

Congenital spinal malformations include:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Spina bifida

Because these are birth defects usually discovered in children, many patients are treated by specialists at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and the OHSU Child Development and Rehabilitation Center. We also work with specialists from the Oregon Brain Institute for adult patients.

Cerebral palsy, or CP, is a group of conditions caused by brain damage. The damage affects the brain’s ability to control muscles.


  • Brain damage before or during birth
  • Premature birth
  • Pediatric stroke
  • Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy


  • Seizures
  • Intellectual or cognitive impairment
  • Problems with vision, speech or hearing
  • Problems with movement (motor issues)

Pediatric patients

Muscular dystrophy, or MD, is a group of conditions that weaken muscles. The conditions are caused by genetic defects. The type of MD someone has depends on which gene has a defect.  

Because parents pass genes to their children, muscular dystrophy runs in families. A genetic counselor can tell you if you carry genes that cause MD and if you’re likely to pass the genes to your children.

Common symptoms

  • Muscle weakness
  • Problems with coordination
  • Loss of ability to move that gets worse over time

Pediatric patients

OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital offers Oregon's only pediatric neuromuscular program, with comprehensive treatment for muscular dystrophy.

Spina bifida is a birth defect. In a normal pregnancy, a structure called a neural tube develops into the brain and spinal cord. In spina bifida, a defect in the tube’s development can leave part of the spinal canal (the area around the spinal cord) open.

Doctors aren't always sure what causes spina bifida. Causes include a family history of neural tube defects, and a lack of folic acid during pregnancy.


Symptoms can be mild, with some children never knowing they have it, to serious.

  • Infection (if the spinal canal is open)
  • Paralysis
  • Seizures
  • Small dimple, tuft of hair or fatty mass on the back

Pediatric patients