Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine that causes it to form an S-shape. It is a common condition that affects over three million people in the United States. A patient is diagnosed as having scoliosis if their curvature is over ten degrees.
The condition usually develops in the lower or mid-back. In some cases, one of the patient’s shoulders will be markedly higher than the other, and the head may lean over to one side. In severe cases, the curved spine can cramp the lungs, and the patient will have trouble breathing. Scoliosis can also cause back pain and fatigue.
There are two types of scoliosis. Degenerative affects adults and is most common in patients over 55. Their spinal curvature can be caused by an injury or a condition like osteoporosis.
Idiopathic affects children and teenagers between ten and sixteen years old. It develops during their growth spurts. While researchers have not yet found the cause, they believe it might be an inheritable condition. Idiopathic scoliosis affects more girls than boys, and it is the most common type.
How is Scoliosis Treated?
The doctor will usually start with non-surgical treatments like physical therapy or braces, especially if the curvature is under 40 degrees. Braces are the most common treatment for children with a curvature between 25 and 40 and who are still growing. While braces can’t correct the curve, they can keep it from getting any worse. Patients who fail to wear their braces as often as they should may find their curve becoming more severe.
The most common brace is made from plastic and fits snugly around the patient’s body. The patient will be able to wear it under clothes and will still be able to participate in most activities. Children stop wearing the brace after they stop growing. A child’s scoliosis will not get any worse after they stop growing.
Surgery may be an option for patients with a curve over 40 degrees. The most frequently used surgery tends to be minimally-invasive. It will take some time for the fused bones to become truly solid, and the patient will be taught the proper ways to stand, sit, walk, and move to keep the vertebrae in alignment. Many patients will need physical therapy.