Though an important part of your body and your life, the spine can often be taken for granted — until it develops or causes problems.
In order to more fully understand and appreciate the spine, we’re taking a closer look at scoliosis: what it is, how it’s caused, and different forms of treatment.
What Is Scoliosis?
Scoliosis is a condition involving a side-to-side curvature of the spine of 10 degrees or greater, either to the left, right, or both. “You can’t spell ‘scoliosis’ without an ‘S’ or a ‘C,’” say the experts at Spine Universe, “and if you have this condition that’s what your spine looks like.”
Scoliosis usually manifests itself during the growth spurt that happens in young people just before puberty (between the ages of 10 – 15), though it can affect people of all ages. It is a fairly uncommon condition (2 to 3% of Americans have scoliosis), but if left untreated, it can cause complications later in life, including leg and back pain, and/or breathing and cardiovascular problems.
What Causes Scoliosis?
Though the Scoliosis Research Society assures scoliosis “does not come from carrying heavy backpacks, participating vigorously in sports, or poor posture,” in more than 80% of cases, the actual cause of scoliosis is not easily identified.
There “appears to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors that influences the development of scoliosis,” professionals at CLEAR Scoliosis Institute explain. “Even in identical twins, it is possible for one twin to develop scoliosis but the other does not.”
There are generally three types of scoliosis:
Though scoliosis has been around and studied for a long time, often the original cause remains unknown. What we do know, as Johns Hopkins Medicine experts explain, is that it can worsen as the body grows. “We should be most concerned about scoliosis in a child that has significant growth remaining.”
Neurological conditions such as spina bifida, cerebral palsy, or other disorders of the brain, spinal cord, or muscular system can contribute to this form of scoliosis. When the muscles are not working properly due to these conditions, scoliosis may develop.
If the spine or vertebrae do not form properly while an infant is in utero, scoliosis can manifest later in life. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, this form of scoliosis occurs “in only 1 in 10,000 newborns, and is much less common than the type of scoliosis that begins in adolescence.”
Spine Universe also identifies three other types of scoliosis (Degenerative, Thoracogenic, and Syndromic), but each of these involve complications with or damage to the spine because of outside forces (such as radiation) or other syndromes.
How is Scoliosis Identified and Diagnosed?
As we’ve already discussed, the causes of scoliosis are sometimes difficult to determine. Symptoms can vary as well — differing between individuals. Johns Hopkins Medicine identifies common indicators of scoliosis that include:
- Shoulder height differences, as well as differences in shoulder blade position
- A difference in head alignment with the rest of the body
- Difference in arm length, when standing straight
- Asymmetry in the ribcage visible from the back or front
If scoliosis is suspected, diagnosis can be determined by a physical exam with a doctor, and/or imaging tests (X-ray, and in some cases MRI) to give your health specialist a more specific look at the spine.
Can Scoliosis be Treated?
Though often the impacts of scoliosis are mild, when necessary, effective treatment commonly involves a brace, which is worn daily until the bones have ceased their growth. Stretching and muscle-building exercises may also help, including a few offered here by Healthline. In some cases, surgical treatment may be recommended, particularly in extreme cases where the procedure will improve balance, breathing, pain management, and quality of life.
Above all, frequent checkups and conversations with your spine specialists are of utmost importance. If you suspect you may have scoliosis, we are here to help alleviate your pain and distress. Please reach out to us online or give us a call at 770-929-9033.