scoliosis 101 all you need to know

Scoliosis 101: All You Need To Know

Have an abnormal curvature in the spine? Explore more on the causes, signs, and treatment options for scoliosis in this article.

by Katherine Khaw

What is Scoliosis

Scoliosis is a condition in which there has been an abnormal curvature in the spine. Normally, a person’s spine should include a curve at the top of the shoulder area, and another at the lower back portion. A spine that has been curved from side to side, or seen in an “S” or “C” shape, may be affected by scoliosis. This article will explore the causes, signs, and treatment options.

Understanding Scoliosis

Types of scoliosis
The side curvature of the spine is frequently diagnosed in teenagers, especially during the growth spurt, as it is most visible during then. Although scoliosis might be discovered in people with cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy, it can also occur without being paired with these conditions.

Most cases of scoliosis are mild. However, there is a risk of the curvature worsening during a person’s growth. Then, if it continues unchecked, it could cause disability in a person. This is due to the compression of space within the chest when the spinal curve is severe, making it difficult for the lungs to function at ease. Severe scoliosis requires immediate attention and intervention.

There are several types of scoliosis:

  • Idiopathic scoliosis: Known as scoliosis without a known cause, this happens in about 80% of cases.
  • Congenital scoliosis: This begins in a baby as their back develops before birth, when the vertebrae may be incomplete or fail to divide. This can either be found during childhood growth or only later in adolescence.
  • Neuromuscular scoliosis: This is affected by a disorder that may damage muscles. When there is no proper support for the spine, this causes the back to curve and incurs the occurrence of scoliosis.
  • Degenerative scoliosis: This is present in aging adults, as the disks and joints of the spine begin to wear out.

Causes of Scoliosis

These are some of the possible causes:

  • Conditions that affect the nervous and muscular system, such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy.
  • Congenital scoliosis, whereas the condition has been there from birth. This would cause the continual curve of the spine throughout the child’s life into adulthood.
  • Leg length, such as a person who has legs of differing lengths.
  • Osteoporosis, as bone degeneration, can lead to secondary scoliosis.
  • Other causes, possibly linked to poor posture, carrying heavy backpacks, connective tissue disorders, or back injuries that can cause spinal curvature.

Scoliosis Risk Factors

The risk factors of scoliosis are as follows, but they may not apply to everyone.

  • Age – Most instances of scoliosis are discovered in adolescence when it first begins.
  • Sex – Girls are more likely than boys to have a worsened case of scoliosis, which leads to treatment needs.
  • Genetics – Usually people who have scoliosis, have a relative or family member with the condition as well.

Signs and Symptoms of Scoliosis

scoliosis body shape

Aside from the curving of one’s spine into an “S” or “C” shape, there are other signs and symptoms which can help you identify the possibility of scoliosis.

This may be any of the following:

  • Non-levelled shoulders
  • A shoulder blade that appears more prominent than the other side
  • A crooked waist, leading to a hip that is higher than the other
  • One side of the rib cage is protruding
  • A prominence on one side of the back, especially when bending forward
  • Head is not aligned directly above the pelvis

Pains such as lower back pain, stiffness, numbness in the legs, or fatigue due to muscle strain could also be present. These pains should not be discounted. For an ageing adult, onset scoliosis may incur height loss as well or an inability to stand upright.

When To See a Doctor?

In the initial stage, it is unlikely that complications to occur. However, you can pay a visit to the doctor if you suspect scoliosis after reading the list of signs and symptoms. Usually, the doctor will examine your back and request an X-ray in order to check how severe the curve may be. The curve will be measured through the Cobb Method. A person is considered to have the condition if there is a rating of more than 10 degrees. A curve is significant if it is rated greater than 25 to 30 degrees. However, curves exceeding 45 to 50 degrees are considered severe and require aggressive intervention.

These are some circumstances in which you should take heed, accordingly:

  • If there are breathing problems present. In severe cases of scoliosis, the rib cage may be compressed against the lungs.
  • If there are back pains, which get worse over time.
  • If there is a significant change in appearance, this can cause self-consciousness about one’s appearance. Not only that, noticeable changes in uneven hips, shoulders, ribs, and waist should be taken note of.

Treatment Options

scoliosis surgeryDepending on the severity of the condition, the treatment options will differ. These are some factors to consider when looking at treatment options:

  • Age – The risk of curve progression is lowered once a person reaches maturity (around 21 years old).
  • The severity of curve – Curves which are larger in nature are more likely to worsen.
  • Sex – Girls experience a higher risk of curve progression compared to boys.
  • Braces For children or young teens, generally, a brace will help to prevent the curve from getting worse. A brace is commonly made of plastic and fitted to the body, underneath one’s clothes. Normally the brace will be used between 13 to 16 hours a day. Wearing a brace would not hinder most activities, and it can be taken off if needed when participating in sports or physical activities. However, it is important to note that this would not cure or reverse the curve issue.
  • Surgery Should scoliosis worsen severely, surgery may be required to straighten the curve and avoid the curve from getting worse.

These are some of the surgical options available:

    • Spinal fusion – If the surgeon proceeds with this method, they will connect two or more bones in the spine together. Metal rods, hooks, screws, or wires will hold the spine together while the new and old bone materials are bonding together.
    • Expanding rod – If the surgery is being carried out while the individual is still of a young age, the surgeon can use an expanding rod along the spine. This can be adjusted in length as the child grows. The expansion can either be done through surgery or in the clinic, using a remote control.
    • Vertebral body tethering – This surgery is performed through small incisions. Screws will be placed along the outside area of the abnormal curve spine, with a strong, flexible thread through the screws. The spine straightens when the cord is tightened.

Lifestyle and Home Remedies

As mentioned earlier, most cases of scoliosis are mild. As such, engaging in lifestyle and home remedies should be able to elevate one’s quality of life. These methods are applied to manage scoliosis pain.

  • Exercise

Stretching and exercising keep you flexible. In addition, it is important for general wellness. To ensure an effective regime, check with your healthcare provider on what kind of exercises are able to build supportive back muscles. Some exercises such as swimming and daily stretching are common ones that can be beneficial. Otherwise, examples such as upward-downward dog and split stance with arm reach are useful home exercises to try.

  • Medication

At times, the pain might be unbearable. Some pain medications can help to relieve the pain. It is best to seek the advice of your doctor on pain and inflammation reduction.

  • Chiropractic care

As this engagement deals with the manipulation of the spine, it can help to relieve the pain and discomfort of scoliosis. Realigning the spine can help with healing and well-being. It is also able to loosen tight joints and the adjustments can help with better posture as well.

  • Posture

Scoliosis may cause a person to compensate for the weight or pain unevenly throughout the body. Nonetheless, it is vital to distribute the weight evenly when sitting, sleeping or standing. Sitting for extended periods of time may cause back pain in spite of a proper stance (back straight, feet planted to the ground). In these cases, try to get up and take a short walk. While sleeping, you may need a pillow or roll support to distribute the spine support.

Scoliosis Prevention

After hearing about the condition, you may wish to seek ways to prevent it from happening. However, it is unlikely to prevent scoliosis as no known cause exists. While people may relate bad posture or heavy backpacks, these do not necessarily cause the condition. Ultimately, early diagnosis is key. If there is no history of such a condition in the extended family, either it was unnoticed due to its mildness or you may be the first in the family to develop the condition.

About the Writer
Katherine Khaw
Katherine is an avid reader, finding joy in halls of words. Aside from the imagination wandering in worlds not here, she enjoys stargazing and gardening. In her heart of hearts, she aspires to be a writer, and to be more than mere dust.
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