What is Scoliosis?

The Top 5 Things You Should Know About Scoliosis

Sco­l­io­sis is a fair­ly com­mon spinal con­di­tion that affects approx­i­mate­ly three per­cent of the Unit­ed States pop­u­la­tion. Most patients that have mild sco­l­io­sis live nor­mal, func­tion­al lives and do not require med­ical treat­ment. Those with aggres­sive forms of sco­l­io­sis should be mon­i­tored close­ly by their pedi­a­tri­cian dur­ing child­hood growth spurts. If there is con­cern that the sco­l­io­sis is wors­en­ing, there are sev­er­al treat­ments offered to slow down or cor­rect the con­di­tion. The fol­low­ing high­lights the top five things to know about scoliosis. 

1. What is scoliosis?

Sco­l­io­sis is defined as a curvature(s) in the spine when look­ing at the per­son from the back. These curves may occur for var­i­ous rea­sons: some chil­dren are born with an abnor­mal bone in their spine, some chil­dren devel­op the issue dur­ing their tod­dler years and some cur­va­tures may occur when mus­cles are very tight on one side (cere­bral pal­sy). Some peo­ple with sco­l­io­sis have a par­ent or fam­i­ly mem­ber that had sco­l­io­sis, how­ev­er, the major­i­ty of sco­l­io­sis cas­es are idio­path­ic, mean­ing we do not have a strong under­stand­ing of why they occur. Most cas­es of sco­l­io­sis occur dur­ing the ado­les­cent growth spurt, which is why the issue is close­ly mon­i­tored dur­ing that time.

It’s impor­tant to point out that sco­l­io­sis is not caused by envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors such as play­ing sports, car­ry­ing heavy bags or lying on your side.

2. What are signs and symp­toms of scoliosis?

    Because sco­l­io­sis pro­gress­es slow­ly over a few years, and most of those affect­ed do not have any symp­toms of back pain or dif­fi­cul­ty mov­ing, the issue may eas­i­ly be missed. Nev­er­the­less, some sub­tle changes of the body do exist, including:

    • Uneven shoul­ders
    • One shoul­der blade that sticks out more than the other
    • The front of your chest looks dif­fer­ent from right to left
    • Uneven­ness of the waist or lean­ing toward one side
    • One hip is high­er than the other

    If such changes exist and become pro­gres­sive­ly worse dur­ing ado­les­cence, you may want to make an appoint­ment with a pedi­a­tri­cian to have your child checked for scoliosis.

    3. How is sco­l­io­sis diagnosed?

      A phys­i­cal exam is the first step in diag­nos­ing sco­l­io­sis. Dur­ing this sim­ple exam, the pedi­a­tri­cian asks the patient to bend at the waist and checks the back for any left/​right uneven­ness. Shoul­der and pelvic sym­me­try are checked also for leg length or oth­er devel­op­men­tal spinal issues.

      Sco­l­io­sis is usu­al­ly detect­ed by fam­i­ly mem­bers or med­ical pro­fes­sion­als dur­ing rou­tine obser­va­tion. Addi­tion­al­ly, annu­al sport phys­i­cals may high­light changes in body shape in the grow­ing child. If your pedi­a­tri­cian con­firms signs con­sis­tent with sco­l­io­sis, your child may be referred for a sco­l­io­sis x‑ray to check the shape of their spine.

      Ear­ly detec­tion of sco­l­io­sis is impor­tant. Recent stud­ies demon­strate that ear­ly detec­tion can aid your physi­cian in mon­i­tor­ing the cur­va­ture and pre­vent its pro­gres­sion dur­ing the ado­les­cent growth spurt.

      4. What is the treat­ment for scoliosis?

        Treat­ment plans for sco­l­io­sis are deter­mined by the sever­i­ty of the spinal curve and the poten­tial for that curve to wors­en. Fac­tors that influ­ence treat­ment include age, antic­i­pat­ed future growth and type of sco­l­io­sis. When treat­ment is need­ed, the pri­ma­ry options are brac­ing and surgery.

        Braces are typ­i­cal­ly used in grow­ing chil­dren whose bones are imma­ture and present with mod­er­ate sco­l­io­sis. While braces do not cure sco­l­io­sis, they pre­vent fur­ther cur­va­ture of the spine. Braces are made of cus­tom mold­ed plas­tic and fit­ted to the body; they’re extreme­ly stream­lined when worn under cloth­ing. They are most effec­tive when worn day and night and can be worn dur­ing most activ­i­ties. Braces are dis­con­tin­ued once a child’s bones stop growing.

        Some severe cas­es of sco­l­io­sis may require surgery to halt the pro­gres­sion of the spinal cur­va­ture and cor­rect spinal bal­ance. The most com­mon type of sco­l­io­sis surgery is spinal realign­ment and fusion. Mod­ern day tech­niques are very safe and effec­tive at cor­rect­ing sco­l­io­sis in the grow­ing child.

        5. What is the prog­no­sis for scoliosis?

        Prog­no­sis for this con­di­tion is gen­er­al­ly very good once detect­ed, mon­i­tored and treat­ed. Prog­no­sis also depends on the type and sever­i­ty of the con­di­tion. For chil­dren and ado­les­cents where the cur­va­ture is mild and idio­path­ic, symp­toms are gen­er­al­ly tol­er­a­ble and sim­i­lar to that of the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion. Mod­er­ate or severe cas­es of sco­l­io­sis in chil­dren are usu­al­ly treat­ed suc­cess­ful­ly with brac­ing or surgery. It usu­al­ly does not cause seri­ous com­pli­ca­tions or reduce life expectancy.

        To sched­ule an appoint­ment with one of our spinal experts, call 630−967−2225 or click here for more infor­ma­tion on our Spine Surgery department.

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        • My training at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, a leading orthopaedic hospital, created a strong desire to educate my patients regarding their neck and back condition, as I believe a well-informed patient can better participate during a joint decision-making process. I am focused on maximizing the overall patient experience and streamlining high-quality spine care for my patients.