In its most simple definition, scoliosis is a curvature of the spine. The condition is most often detected in childhood or during a person’s teenage years and while many cases are mild, it can worsen as time goes by. The condition affects roughly 2-3% of the population in the United States and is more common in females than males.
While scoliosis left untreated can progress to the point of being disabling, there are numerous treatment options to help the spine correct itself.
The cause of and types of scoliosis
The most common form of scoliosis is known as idiopathic scoliosis and simply refers to cases that have no direct cause. Instead, they’re categorized by age group, ranging from infant up through adults. While family genetics can play a factor, in most cases, the direct cause of scoliosis remains a mystery and idiopathic scoliosis accounts for roughly 80% of cases.
Other variations of scoliosis include congeniality, which can be tied to deformities apparent at birth, and neurological scoliosis, which may occur as a result of cerebral palsy, spina bifida, or a spinal injury.
Degenerative scoliosis can also affect adults in old age as their lower back weakens and the spine’s discs and joints begin to wear out.
Commons symptoms of scoliosis
The symptoms associated with scoliosis will vary depending on the severity, with the most common being a C or S-shaped sideways curve of the spine. The curve can be apparent in the spine in any of its three major parts: cervical (neck area), thoracic (chest and mid-back), or lumbar (lower back area).
In addition to back pain, this curvature can cause a shoulder blade to be higher or stick out more than the other. It can also result in uneven hips or the ribs on one side of the body protruding out further. This often results in a loss of height and trouble breathing or quick fatigue from constant muscle strain.
Some people with more progressed forms of scoliosis also report premature feelings of fullness in the stomach. This is because of the pressure put on the abdomen that will make a person feel full while eating a meal, even though the stomach typically isn’t actually full.
The first step to successfully treating scoliosis is a proper diagnosis. Your family physician will ask you to bend at the waist to get a visual of the spine to look for abnormal curving. They may then recommend a further examination with imaging tests. These could include an X-ray, MRI scan, CT scan, or bone scan to get a better picture of your body’s spine.
In many cases with young children, doctors will monitor the condition as it improves on its own without the need for medical treatment. When treatment is needed, many cases in both children and adults can be managed by a combination of physical therapy and a back brace. While a brace won’t correct the spine on its own, it can prevent the condition from worsening.
Surgery is more common in treating adult cases of scoliosis when more conservative options do not work. As always, please consult a physician for the best possible treatment for you.