Scoliosis is so common that it affects up to 2-3% of the population! But what exactly is it? Scoliosis is the term used to describe the condition where the spinal column is twisted or shifted. A healthy and aligned spinal column is straight, where a spine with scoliosis has some curvature. This can cause many issues, but it is also proven to be very treatable.
How does scoliosis happen?
Most scoliosis is diagnosed in children, usually in the ages where they reach puberty or younger. This is because as the spine grows, it can sometimes have problems within the growth plates which can cause twisting or curvature. In many people it is mild, but there are severe cases that can be debilitating. Even the mild cases, if left untreated, can be very painful and cause more issues. Some cases of scoliosis are caused by the patient already having cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy, which are conditions which affect growth. These cases are usually more severe due to the nature of their pre-existing conditions. Another cause of scoliosis is birth defects. Some people can also contract scoliosis due to aging. Injuries to the spine and infections of the spinal cord and vertebrae can also cause scoliosis. Although there are many different causes, sometimes there is not an obvious cause for scoliosis. Despite that, there are usually many recognizable indicators that can help you determine if you need to see a doctor.
What does Scoliosis look like?
In most people, the vertebrae of the spinal column are visible through the skin. Children’s spines are usually prominent enough that the vertebrae can be clearly seen and you can get a general idea of the spine’s shape. If the spine is straight up and down, that usually indicates a normal spine. However, if the spine is showing a clear “S” or “C” shape, that could mean that the person has scoliosis. Another sign is that the person might have one shoulder that is clearly higher than the other, or they are uneven. In a similar way, an uneven walking pattern or having one hip higher than the other can be an indicator of scoliosis. These are signs that a person’s spine is not in line. A doctor can usually determine if someone has scoliosis just through a physical exam, but an x-ray can also be needed to show if the spine has twisted in any way. Treatment of Mild Cases Luckily, in many children or adolescents, scoliosis does not cause much pain, if any. Even though the spine may be twisting or curving, most of the time it can be corrected through some simple treatments. One option for less severe cases is orthopedic physical therapy. This is really only a viable option for people with spine curvatures that are mild and could possibly go away with more growth. These cases are usually only monitored through regular checkups and x-rays.
Treatment of Moderate Cases
In most cases, the doctor will prescribe scoliosis bracing as a treatment. There are a few different types of braces for varying degrees of spinal curve. Braces do not technically repair the curves, but they can keep them from increasing. Bracing is very common, and although it can be uncomfortable, it can help protect the spine from any further damage. Braces must be worn for about 16-23 hours per day. These are designed to be worn at all times, so many of them are discreet and can be hidden under clothing. They usually are worn under the arms and around the chest region. With full compliance, scoliosis bracing has proven effective in over 80% of patients!
Types of Brace
There are four standard medically-approved types of brace: the Milwaukee, the Boston, the Wilmington and the Charleston brace. The Milwaukee brace is considered to be outdated, but is sometimes still used in more severe cases. This brace has a metal superstructure and must be worn outside of the clothing. It has a reputation for being uncomfortable and noticeable. The Boston brace is much more progressive, and is worn like a jacket. It fits under the armpits and latches on in the back. This does mean that someone has to help the patient take it on and off, but it is easily hidden under clothing and is made of lightweight but stiff plastic. The Wilmington brace is a bit more designed for older children or adults as it is similar to the Boston brace, but it fastens in the front. The Charleston brace is designed for nighttime use, and is much more rigid. It helps with twisting and helps the spine to rest in its more natural curve. This brace is only for use when lying down.
Treatment of Severe Cases
Usually severe cases are only seen in people where bracing did not work, or no treatment was conducted at all. These cases are usually only treatable through surgery. Spinal surgery usually has one of two goals: to stop the curve from progressing, or to repair spinal deformity. The most common form of scoliosis surgery is spinal fusion. This is when a surgeon places a rod around the spine and fuses the vertebrae together. This can decrease some mobility, but it can almost always repair scoliosis. Like any surgery, there is a chance of complications arising, so talk to your doctor about risks before proceeding. In many cases, the patient is able to return to normal function and be relatively pain-free.
Do I have scoliosis?
If you or your children are experiencing any of these symptoms, talk with your doctor as soon as possible. Scoliosis may cause some severe issues if untreated. Seeing a doctor quickly can help reduce your risk of surgery, pain, and other spinal issues. Orthopedic doctors are specialists in bones, nerves, and the tissues that connect them. This means that they know what to look for and how to diagnose scoliosis. Make an appointment and you could be helping yourself to grow and heal in the best way possible!