Many have heard briefly of scoliosis, maybe during a routine physical at their doctor’s office, or when their children reached the age to be examined by a school nurse. But do you know exactly what scoliosis is? How it affects the spine and what can be done about it? Let’s take a minute to review the facts.
Scoliosis is not a disease, but rather a term used to describe a spinal deformity, which presents as sideways curve in the spine. A normal spine is perfectly vertical, as if a line was drawn with a ruler on a piece of paper. But when scoliosis occurs, the spine can curve both ways (creating an S shape). Doctors don’t yet know exactly what causes these curves to appear, but because the disorder has been shown to run in families, heredity is a possible factor. Neuromuscular conditions such as cerebral palsy, certain birth defects, and injuries to the spine may also be cause for a scoliosis curvature to develop.
1 in 40 people will be affected by scoliosis, and anyone at any age is at risk. Although there is no age cut-off, signs and symptoms most commonly occur just before puberty, when the body experiences a growth spurt. These cases are typically detected by school screenings, though parents at home can also screen their children. The most obvious signs to look for are:
• Uneven shoulders
• Uneven hips
• Asymmetry of back
• Head slightly off center
• One shoulder blade higher than the other
Gender also plays a role, though not necessarily in the rate of development, but in the severity of the condition. Once scoliosis sets in, girls have a much higher risk of the curve worsening and requiring more intensive treatment.
So what are the treatment options for people diagnosed with scoliosis? In adults, treatment depends on the pain level and its effects on daily living that the condition is causing. In adolescents, treatment depends on the severity of the spinal curve.
Observation: If the scoliosis curve is mild (as in most cases) treatment may involve only regular checkups to monitor the changes in the spine. A doctor will measure and keep track of the degree of curvature and initiate further treatment if necessary.
Braces: For moderate curves, and a growing spine, a back brace may be used. These braces will not reverse current curvature, but may prevent further progression. They are typically worn until the bones stop growing after puberty.
Surgery: Severe scoliosis may require surgery to reduce the curvature already present, and prevent further progression. Surgery is needed when the spine’s curve infringes on the lungs and heart, causes severe chronic pain, or drastically alters one’s appearance.
If you notice any signs of scoliosis in your children, or yourself, schedule an appointment with a spine specialist for evaluation. When it comes to this condition, awareness and early detection are crucial. If the signs and symptoms are recognized early on, most cases have treatment options to restore a functioning spine. Take a minute to familiarize yourself with scoliosis and if you can, pass this information on to others who have children, or even those who don’t. Knowing the facts and staying educated will help you stand guard on the front lines of scoliosis prevention.