What is Scoliosis? The most widely known Scoliosis definition in most medical dictionaries today is this: Scoliosis is a medical condition involving the sideways curvature of a person’s spine. The curve usually takes the form of a C- or S- shape.
Simply put, a normal person’s back, when examined, takes the form of a straight line running down the middle. When a person has Scoliosis, this straight line is curved. Scoliosis most often occurs during a person’s growth spurt just right before hitting puberty and can be mild and stay stable over time while others get progressively worse and show a significant degree of curvature.
In the case of mild Scoliosis, it does not affect anything but the affected person’s posture and gait. Severe Scoliosis, on the other hand, may compromise some of the person’s organs especially in the lungs, and is more than likely to interfere with his/her breathing as the amount of space in his/her chest is significantly reduced. Pain is not typically present during Scoliosis except in the most severe cases.
Scoliosis is not easily visible in most persons affected, especially in the case of mild scoliosis. More severe cases of Scoliosis will produce a noticeably different posture as well as having a little lean on the shoulders and hips in the people it affects.
What are the Primary Causes of Scoliosis?
Now on to the question, what exactly causes Scoliosis? Apparently, doctors and scientists in the medical field are still asking this question, as they consider Scoliosis as an idiopathic condition. Meaning that in most cases of Scoliosis, the exact reason for why a person’s spine curves are unknown. This idiopathic Scoliosis occurs in about 80% of cases.
The other 20%, however, do have clear causes as to how they happen, and they are classified into two categories, namely:
1.Structural Scoliosis - this is the medical term for Scoliosis where the curve of the spine is fairly rigid, and hence can’t be reversed. This type of Scoliosis can be caused by any of the following factors:
- Congenital Disorders such as Spina Bifida, which affects the formation of bones and gets progressively worse during puberty
- Disorders of the neural system as well as the muscles such as Marfan’s Syndrome, Muscular Dystrophy, and Cerebral Palsy
- Past Injuries, Trauma, and Infections near your spine
- Tumors near your spine
2. Scoliosis - this type of Scoliosis, on the other hand, has a spine that although is curved, remains fully functional. This type of Scoliosis is reversible as it is usually caused by something minor like a spasm or muscle pain, and in most cases, a difference in leg length that produces an uneven posture. Inflammations like appendicitis can also this type of Scoliosis. The good thing about non-structural Scoliosis is that once these underlying problems are treated, then Scoliosis itself will disappear.
What are the Most Common Risk Factors Associated with Scoliosis?
As with most illnesses, there are risk factors that can increase your chance of having Scoliosis. Some of the known risk factors that increase your likelihood to have Scoliosis are as follows:
- Genetics – Having a family history of Scoliosis poses a good likelihood that you will have the condition yourself too.
- Age - Teenagers aged 10-15 have a higher chance of having Scoliosis than most adults, as this is the time where a growth spurt takes place and Scoliosis is most likely to develop in people.
- Gender - Both boys and girls have an equal chance of acquiring the condition, but with girls, the likelihood that their Scoliosis will worsen and eventually require treatment is 10 times more than it is with boys.
- Congenital Disorders - having congenital disorders, such as the one mentioned above (spina bifida) can increase a person’s likelihood to contact Scoliosis
- Neurological and Genetic Disorders - people with neurological disorders such as Marfan Syndrome, Down Syndrome as well as Cerebral Palsy can also be more susceptible to having Scoliosis.
- Previous Infections related to the spine
Possible Complications that Can Develop from Scoliosis
Just like with other illnesses also, Scoliosis can have major complications if not treated immediately. Some of these complications are listed below:
- Permanent Deformity - there will be permanent deformity of your spine once Scoliosis gets progressively worse to the point where it is difficult to correct.
- Spine or Nerve Damage – an uncorrected curve due to Scoliosis can result in spinal or nerve damage as the nerves continually become out of place.
- Breathing Problems - as Scoliosis gets worse, it compresses down on a person’s chest and effectively decreases the amount of space in that person’s lungs reducing his/her breathing capacity.
- Lower Back Pain
- Persistent Pain
What are the Most Common Scoliosis Symptoms People Experience?
There are a lot of Scoliosis symptoms out there and can vary depending on the severity of the condition the degree of curvature. But in most Scoliosis cases the symptoms are more or less the same. Some of these Scoliosis symptoms are listed below:
- Uneven Posture - perhaps the most prominent among all of the Scoliosis symptoms and the one you notice on first glance is that a person affected with Scoliosis has a permanent uneven posture about. This uneven posture looks as if the person’s upper body or torso is perpetually leaning to one side.
- Backache or Lower back pain - due to the spinal cord being perpetually curved to one side, there is much more pressure directed to one side of your back than the other. This irregular posture of the back and abnormal stress it places on your body can be a cause for backaches. Not only that, but the pain in this Scoliosis symptom is not limited to your lower back, and can sometimes radiate to neighboring body parts that are directly connected to the spine like your hip, buttocks, shoulders, and neck.
- Spine curves to one side - Of course, this is one of the most noticeable Scoliosis symptoms as this is the very definition of the condition itself. But to easily know if someone has Scoliosis is to look at the alignment of their spine.
- Head not centered with the rest of the body - Although not as easily noticeable as most other Scoliosis symptoms, this symptom is due to the back not being in a straight position because of the curvature of the spine, the head may not be directly centered with the body. This is because the spine is connected directly to your head and is responsible for keeping it centered on your body. But with this Scoliosis symptom, since the spine is curved, so is the alignment of your head.
- Tiredness in the area of your spine - In this Scoliosis symptom, A person with Scoliosis usually gets tired more easily than a person without the condition, especially when standing or sitting down for an extended period of time.
In the most severe cases of Scoliosis, some other symptoms can be felt in addition to those mentioned above, such as:
- Respiratory Problems - This is one of the more severe Scoliosis symptoms. A person experiencing Scoliosis can experience a certain tightness in his/her lungs caused by the continuously decreasing space in his/her chest, as the curvature of the spine puts pressure on a person’s chest.
- Cardiac Problems - Another example of severe Scoliosis symptoms, along with the previous one, is cardiac problems. Cardiac problems may also arise along with respiratory problems, as the heart is also found in the chest, along with the lungs
- Constipation - This is one of the Scoliosis symptoms that is rare and is only present in very severe cases as mentioned before, there is a tightening of space in your chest, but it can also affect your stomach and the organs around it. Hence, one of the first ones to be affected is your digestive system, which can cause constipation.
- Limited mobility and range of movement - Another one of the more common Scoliosis symptoms that can affect the patient. Due to the irregular curvature of the spine in your body, you may be hampered from doing any physically strenuous activity.
Other examples of Scoliosis symptoms:
- Painful menstruation
- Prominence of one rib cage over the other
- Prominence of one shoulder blade over the other
What are Some of the Medical Procedures used to Diagnose Scoliosis?
After feeling any one or more of the symptoms above, you should immediately seek the advice of a physician or a specialist on the matter. People who experience Scoliosis are examined by most specialists and physicians to determine if the condition has another underlying cause. So it is important to brace yourself whenever undergoing diagnostic procedures as the physician may find out another cause more serious than your present condition, although this is not the case most of the time.
Scoliosis diagnosis almost always begins with an examination of your medical history and performing a physical exam. The physical exam involves but is not limited to the forward-bending test. You are instructed to bend forward at the waist and hang your arms loosely with your palms touching each other. The curvature of your spine or rotation of your spinal curve is then measured by a scoliometer.
An X-ray can then be done, as well as various imaging tests such as CT scans and MRI if the physical exam yields significant and alarming data. But usually, an x-ray is enough to produce a concrete diagnosis.
How to Treat Scoliosis
Scoliosis treatments can come in many forms, Bracing, Surgery, Medication and much more. The type of treatment you get from the dozens of Scoliosis treatments available for your choosing largely depends on how severe your case is, specifically how severe the curvature of your spine is, as well as the maturity of your skeletal system. This is to determine the spine’s potential for further growth, and finding out if the curvature will still progress.
1. Bracing is one of the more common types of methods on how to treat Scoliosis that's available for you. This is for people whose bones are still continually growing such as children or teenagers. Usually bracing doesn’t actually cure Scoliosis itself but can prevent the further progression or curving of the spine. The brace that medical specialists commonly use is one made out of plastic.
This treatment is ideal for other Scoliosis treatments as it can be hidden discreetly under clothes and fits snugly under your arms and around the rib cage, as well as in the lower back and hips.
Bear in mind that Scoliosis treatments like braces should be worn day and night, so as to prevent further progression of the condition and is a necessary way on how to treat Scoliosis. Wearing braces can effectively reduce the restrictions previously placed on you for simply having Scoliosis. You can now perform everyday tasks with ease but you must still avoid physically strenuous activity that puts a stress on your spine as much as you can.
2. Surgery can also be a viable treatment for the many Scoliosis treatments out there. This method on how to treat Scoliosis is usually reserved for severe cases. Surgical procedures are prescribed by the doctor to reduce the severity of the curve of your spinal cord and to prevent it from getting worse.
3. Spinal fusion is the most commonly used procedure among most surgical ways on how to treat Scoliosis. Spinal fusion is done by connecting two or more bones in your vertebrae in order to reduce movement. Materials that are as close to imitating bone as they possibly can are inserted between the vertebrae to hamper its movement further curving. Part of the spine is then held straight by hooks, wires, metal rods, and screws while the bones in your vertebra fuse together.
Surgery is certainly one of the more effective methods on how to treat Scoliosis that is available, but it is not without its complications. The complications involved in the surgery of the spinal cord can include bleeding, infection, and rarely pain or nerve damage. There are also rare instances where the bones fail to fuse and heal together and might require another surgery.
Pain Medications that Can be Prescribed for Scoliosis
Another one of the effective methods on how to treat Scoliosis is by a patient choosing from prescription medication, specifically painkillers. This is an ideal treatment especially when the Scoliosis is accompanied by back pain, and the degree of curvature in the spine is causing stress in the joints, bones, muscles, and soft tissues in your spine. Medications that are prescribed may include but are not limited to ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen sodium.
However, be reminded that these medications are only prescribed to relieve back pain and if there is ever inflammation, reduce it. Medications do not serve as a method on how to treat Scoliosis itself, unlike the Scoliosis treatments mentioned before.
What are the necessary aftercare steps you need to take after Scoliosis surgery?
Most often after a Scoliosis surgery, you won’t be discharged just yet as doctors will keep a close eye on you and monitor your condition. However after your condition has improved significantly and you are able to stand up and walk, you will then be discharged and you will come back soon after to have your stitches removed. Here are some aftercare tips you can do in your own home to ensure that your surgical wounds heal properly over time and a guideline on how to treat Scoliosis
- Taking care of your wounds – don’t take a shower just yet, patients are only allowed to take a shower within a week after surgery. For the first week after that, you will still have to cover your incision wounds with something, preferably plastic medical tape to avoid it getting wet. Then a week after that you can shower and clean your wounds.
- Breathing exercises – practice breathing exercises to restore the original function of your lungs back to the way it was surgery. Do minor breathing exercises first so as to not agitate and open your wounds, then gradually increase the exercises that you do as your wounds begin to heal.
- Exercises and Stretching - In the first week following your surgery, you will be advised to get as much bed rest as you possibly can, but after that, it is safe to take a few steps and walks around the house to exercise your body.