June has been declared Scoliosis Awareness Month by the Scoliosis Research Society. It is a time to wear green ribbons in solidarity for those living with the condition, and to raise awareness about the importance of early detection and preventive care.
Scoliosis is the most common spinal deformity in the country. In fact, an estimated seven million Americans currently live with scoliosis, all of who are different races, ages and socioeconomic statuses. (For example: Did you know that celebrities like Sarah Michelle Gellar and Vanessa Williams have battled with scoliosis?)
In the spirit of raising awareness, below are a few basic facts you should know about this debilitating deformity.
What is scoliosis, exactly?
Scoliosis—derived from the Greek word that means crooked—is a curve of the spine that may resemble an “S” or “C” shape. There are three types of scoliosis:
- Idiopathic scoliosis: The most common form of scoliosis that occurs due to an unknown cause (primarily in adolescents)
- Congenital scoliosis: Scoliosis that a child is born with
- Secondary scoliosis: Scoliosis that develops due to another condition, such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida or muscular dystrophy
Most scoliosis cases are mild in nature, but can become disabling if left unchecked. A severe spinal curvature may even make it difficult to breathe due to a reduction of space within the chest.
What are the symptoms of scoliosis?
Scoliosis symptoms may include:
- An uneven appearance of the rib cage
- An uneven hip level
- One shoulder blade that sticks out more than the other
- Shoulders that are uneven
Who is at risk for scoliosis?
While scoliosis can affect anyone, there are certain factors that can elevate an individual’s risk. These include:
- Age: Children between 10 and 15 years of age
- Family history: Scoliosis tends to run in families, but family history is not an indication that the disease will occur in a child
- Sex: Though both genders can develop scoliosis, girls are at a significantly higher risk of developing a curvature that may require treatment
Is surgery the only treatment for scoliosis?
Contrary to popular belief, no. Most cases of scoliosis are mild and can be treated with non-invasive methods if caught early. However, treatment will depend on certain factors:
- Location of the curve: Curves in the middle of the back (thoracic spine) are more severe than curves in the upper (cervical) or lower (lumbar) back
- Curve shape: S-shaped curves tend to be worse than C-shaped curves
- Spine maturity: The risk of the curve worsening is low in a child if the bones have stopped growing
- Severity of the curve: Curves over a certain degree of curvature are more likely to get worse than those with a lower degree
What are the non-surgical options for scoliosis?
A mild form of scoliosis may only require physician monitoring until the spine stops growing.
With moderate scoliosis, the physician may recommend a brace. While the brace does not reverse or “cure” the condition, it can stop scoliosis from progressing. The brace can be removed after the spine has stopped growing.
When does surgery become necessary?
For severe cases of scoliosis, surgery may be required to keep it from getting worse. The most common surgical treatment is spinal fusion.
With spinal fusion, two or more spinal vertebrae are connected with bone or bone-like material in-between them. Then, rods and screws are strategically placed to hold the spine straight and stabilize it until the bones fully fuse together.
What do I do if I suspect my child has scoliosis?
If you’ve noted any signs or symptoms that may indicate that your child has scoliosis, make an appointment with a physician to have your child evaluated. Following an exam, the physician may order an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test to confirm the diagnosis and determine the severity of the curvature. The physician will then work with you to determine the best course of treatment for your child.
We Specialize in Scoliosis
At IGEA Brain & Spine, our neurosurgeons have extensive experience in treating scoliosis in adolescents and adults. Utilizing the latest tools and techniques, our practice offers compassionate, comprehensive treatment for those living with this spine disorder.
For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, contact IGEA today.