Scoliosis is an abnormal lateral curve of the spine that affects two to three percent of the population in the United States. Often diagnosed in early childhood, if untreated, scoliosis becomes a lifelong condition that can cause pain, discomfort, and other physical complications throughout one’s life. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), every year, scoliosis patients make more than 600,000 visits to physician offices, an estimated 30,000 children are fitted with corrective braces, and 38,000 patients undergo spinal fusion surgery, all in an attempt to treat this complex condition. Every June, families impacted by scoliosis, along with the medical community, recognize Scoliosis Awareness Month. It is a time to gain an understanding of scoliosis, its causes, and treatment options, and continue to generate awareness and research funding to help support those impacted by this condition.
What Causes Scoliosis?
While scoliosis can sometimes be diagnosed during infancy or early childhood, it often develops during the growth spurt that adolescents experience just before puberty. While sometimes caused by cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy, the primary cause of most scoliosis cases is unknown.
Symptoms of Scoliosis
The spine is comprised of small vertebrae bones stacked on top of one another. A healthy spine should have a natural curve that allows for rotation and bending. In cases of scoliosis, the spine curves to the side, forming a C or S shape. In the most severe cases, scoliosis can cause health complications over time.
If you believe that you or your child may have scoliosis, you may notice the following symptoms:
- One shoulder blade higher than the other
- A shoulder blade that sticks out more than the other
- The appearance that the head is not centered with the rest of the body
- Uneven hips or one hip sticking out more than the other
- A rotated spine
- Pushed out ribs
- Difficulty breathing due to a reduced available area for lung expansion
- Back pain and discomfort
- Arms not hanging down straight next to the body
- When bending forward, the appearance that the two sides of the back are different heights
Scoliosis Treatment Options
X-Rays can help confirm the extremity of a spinal curvature. If diagnosed with scoliosis, depending on your age, the cause, and the severity of the condition, your doctor may attempt non-surgical or surgical treatment options to correct the curve of your spine.
Non-Surgical Treatment Option for Scoliosis
For adolescents, spines with lateral curves measuring over 20 degrees may benefit from a temporary, specially designed back brace that is worn to keep the curve from worsening as the spine grows and from requiring surgery later in life. Back braces can also help a curve to become smaller over time. The more the brace is worn throughout the day, the more effective it can become.
Surgical Treatment Options for Scoliosis
Spinal curves greater than 50 degrees may require spinal fusion surgery to improve posture. During the procedure, a surgeon will aim to realign and fuse curved vertebrae to encourage them to heal into a single, solid bone. Thanks to modern advancements in medical technology and tools, spinal fusion surgeries on scoliosis patients can help improve lateral curves significantly.
How to Get Help
If you are an adult who has not adequately treated scoliosis earlier in life, talk to your doctor to understand the extent of your spinal curve, and what options may be available to you to ease any discomfort. If you are a parent who believes your child may be developing scoliosis, talk to your child’s pediatrician. He or she can discuss diagnosis and treatment options and help you to put a plan in place to help protect your child from a worsening condition that could be problematic throughout his or her adult life.