As a spine surgeon in practice for more than two decades, I've come to value the internet as a fantastic resource for information. But it isn't without flaws. And sometimes, misleading and deceptive advertising practices can wreak havoc on a person who is looking for clinically-proven treatment options for often painful conditions like scoliosis. While the majority of scoliosis diagnoses are in women, they are usually due to unknown (also called idiopathic) causes. While we may not know all there is to know about what causes scoliosis, we in the spine health field do know quite a bit about the most and least effective long-term treatment options for it.
Observation: Many who are newly diagnosed with scoliosis search for the best treatment options to reverse the condition. Often, depending on the degree of spinal curvature, immediate treatment isn't always necessary. A few ways to determine this, with the help of your doctor, are 1) to measure the degree of spinal curvature. If it is less than 25 degrees, immediate action may not be required, and 2) assess your level of discomfort. Is scoliosis keeping you from living the life you want? Are you no longer able to perform tasks that previously came with ease? These are some questions you need to ask yourself before deciding whether to undergo treatment. If the curvature degree is slight and you aren't experiencing any pain or discomfort, then it may be best, under the care of your doctor, to simply monitor your condition over time with regular check-ups.
Exercise: If you perform an internet search of the terms "scoliosis exercise," you'll find thousands of articles, videos and tip sheets directing you to the "best" exercise for the treatment of scoliosis. Some even claim to reverse or cure the condition. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, without the guidance and advice from a board certified physician, some exercises can end up doing more harm than good. Now, this isn't to say that exercise isn't beneficial for scoliosis sufferers. It most certainly can be. I've had many patients find temporary relief from discomfort by doing low impact activities like walking and swimming. But the idea that a certain exercise can "cure" scoliosis hasn't been validated by independent medical research.
Bracing: There are many devices on the market that can aid in preventing a spinal curvature like scoliosis from getting worse. Doctors sometimes advise patients to wear a brace if the person is still growing and has a curve between 20-40 degrees. The key here is age and growth potential. Bracing has not been clinically proven to reverse curve progression. Bracing's efficacy has also been shown to dramatically decline after the onset of puberty, especially in women.
Surgery: Doctors use surgery to correct a curve or stop it from worsening when the person is still growing, the curve is more than 45 degrees and the curve is worsening. Surgery often involves fusing together two or more bones in the spine and may involve the use of other implants as well. While surgery for scoliosis isn't without risks, the advent of minimally-invasive options has made this an effective, less-painful and life saving treatment for many people around the world.
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with scoliosis, I encourage you to learn all you can about the condition. Be sure to stick with reputable organizations that back up their claims with independent, scientifically-validated research. And of course, consult with a board certified physician who specializes in the treatment of spinal deformities for the most up-to-date and factual information.
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