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Diseases & Conditions

Scoliosis

ScoliosisCausesPreventionSymptomsTreatmentTypesBraces

What is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a complex medical condition characterized by an abnormal curvature of the backbone or spine. On an x ray, the spine of the affected person may resemble a C or an S rather than appear straight.

Causes of Scoliosis

In nearly 85% of the cases, the cause for scoliosis remains a mystery. This type of scoliosis is called idiopathic scoliosis. If the affected person is under 3 years of age, it is known as infantile idiopathic scoliosis. If those affected fall in the age group 3-10, it is identified as juvenile idiopathic scoliosis and if scoliosis occurs in people above 10 years of age, it is called adolescent idiopathic scoliosis.

Prevention of Scoliosis

Scoliosis is not a preventable condition and researchers still do not understand the actual cause for this condition in children.

Symptoms of Scoliosis

  • Scoliosis is most often recognized by the abnormal curving of the spine. This may be a mild change which can be detected by family or friends, and at regular school screening exams. A person may notice that clothes that used to fit comfortably earlier do not do so now.
  • In some people, the head may appear to be off center or one shoulder or hip appears to be higher compared to the other.
  • In severe cases of scoliosis, the lungs and heart may not work properly. Chest pain and shortness of breath may occur.
  • Certain kinds of scoliosis can cause back pain.

Treatment for Scoliosis

Treatment for idiopathic scoliosis depends on the age when the child develops it, the severity and the prognosis for the curve getting worse. Treatment can be in the form of observation, bracing and surgery. Many infantile idiopathic scoliosis cases usually improve on their own without any treatment. For neuromuscular scoliosis patients, surgery may be recommended to prevent the condition from getting worse. The highest risk of getting worse is for juvenile idiopathic scoliosis. If the scoliosis is not too severe, bracing may be tried to prevent it from worsening till the child stops growing. Children might need aggressive treatment if scoliosis sets in early as there are a number of growing years left when the condition may worsen.

If the curvature is between 25-40 degrees in adolescents, a brace may be suggested. However, if the curvature is more than 40 degrees, the doctor may recommend surgery.

In case a person suffering from scoliosis has back pain, physical therapy, exercises such as yoga, and massages can be helpful in alleviating the symptoms and strengthening back muscles.

Surgery for Scoliosis

X rays and MRIs may be obtained before the surgery. The surgical procedure for scoliosis may include decompressing or completely removing the bone spurs that are causing the nerves to compress. Some scoliosis cases may require a fusion to stabilize the spine and set right the abnormal curve.

Classification of Scoliosis

Scoliosis can be of three many types:

  • Functional Scoliosis: Here, the spine appears to be normal by itself but an abnormal curve can develop due to some other problem in the body. Appendicitis, muscle spasm and a shorter leg compared to the other can be reasons for this condition.
  • Neuromuscular Scoliosis: This occurs when there is a problem with the spinal bones. The bones may fail to completely form, or they may not be separated from each other. People with other disorders such as muscular dystrophy, birth defects, Marfan’s Disease or cerebral palsy can develop scoliosis of this kind. This is a serious condition that requires aggressive treatment.
  • Degenerative Scoliosis: This a kind of scoliosis that is common among older adults and is caused by spine changes due to conditions such as arthritis, wear and tear of spinal ligaments and soft tissues together with abnormal bone spurs.

Braces for Scoliosis

The doctor may recommend bracing for the person suffering from scoliosis. There are different kinds of braces. Some require them to be worn the whole day and can be removed only while taking a bath. Some can be worn only while sleeping at night. The efficacy of the braces depends on following the instructions as directed by the doctor. Braces can not correct scoliosis curvature but they can help in slowing down or stopping it from getting any worse. In case the angle of the curve stays below 40 degrees till the child stops growing, there are less chances of it worsening later on in life. However, if the angle is greater than 40 degrees, there are higher chances of it getting worse by 1 or 2 degrees every year. This has to be prevented to prevent lung and heart complications later on.