Scoliosis is a common spinal disorder that can be detected with a yearly physical examination and treated early on to prevent back pain and postural changes.
Scoliosis is a common spinal disorder that affects people of all ages, though the most common age group affected by this condition is adolescents between 11 and 18. Knowing the symptoms of scoliosis can help you determine whether you or your child may be suffering from this condition and needs treatment.
Keep reading to learn more about scoliosis, and about how to contact Lompoc Valley Medical Center for scoliosis diagnosis and treatment.
What Is Scoliosis?
Scoliosis is an abnormal, sideways curvature of the spine characterized by a spine that curves into a “C” or “S” shape. Scoliosis is most common among adolescents, who tend to develop this condition right before puberty.
Many cases of scoliosis are mild, but this condition has the potential to become more severe as children continue to grow. Severe scoliosis can cause disability and interfere with lung and heart function due to the way the curved spine can reduce the amount of space in the chest. Mild scoliosis may not require treatment, though severe cases may require surgery.
What Causes Scoliosis?
Researchers are not sure what causes most cases of scoliosis. Still, they suspect that less common types of scoliosis may be caused by cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and congenital disabilities such as spina bifida. Injuries or infections that affect the spine may also cause scoliosis, such as fractures that occur in those with osteoporosis.
Some factors may increase the risk of developing scoliosis. These risk factors include:
- Having a family history of scoliosis
- Being female
- Being between the ages of 11 and 18, or before experiencing the growth spurt prior to puberty
What Are Symptoms of Scoliosis?
Scoliosis symptoms will vary from one person to the next based on the severity of their condition. Common symptoms of scoliosis include:
- Uneven shoulders/a shoulder blade that is higher than the other
- A shoulder blade that sticks out more prominently than the other
- A rounded shoulder
- Rotating or twisting spine
- Ribs on one side of the body that stick out more prominently than the other
- Uneven waist
- Uneven hips/one side of the hip is higher than the other
- Back pain
- A sunken chest or uneven chest shape
- Breathing difficulties
What Complications Are Associated with Scoliosis?
Most cases of scoliosis are relatively mild and do not cause complications. However, severe cases of scoliosis can reduce your quality of life and lead to life-threatening consequences.
Potential complications associated with scoliosis include:
- Damage to the heart and lungs, due to the way the rib cage can press against these organs
- Mitral valve prolapse (abnormal heart valve)
- Problems with breathing
- Chronic back pain, especially in adults who developed scoliosis during childhood
- Tingling or numbness in the legs
- Abnormal posture
- Permanent deformities and appearance concerns
How Is Scoliosis Diagnosed?
Scoliosis can be diagnosed with a physical exam and one or more imaging tests. A neurological exam may also be conducted to test for muscle weakness, numbness, and abnormal reflexes.
Children and adolescents are usually screened for scoliosis during annual physical examinations required by their schools, while adults may be screened only when they have symptoms of scoliosis. During the physical exam, your doctor will ask you to stand up straight and bend over to touch your toes. This allows the doctor to look for spinal curvature and uneven hips, waist, and shoulders.
Imaging tests that can help diagnose scoliosis include X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) scan, and a bone scan. All these tests will provide your doctor with detailed pictures of your spine and surrounding bones and tissues.
How Is Scoliosis Treated?
Braces and surgery are the two primary treatments for scoliosis.
Children with moderate scoliosis or whose bones are still growing may be treated using braces. Braces are contoured to fit the body and made to fit under the arms, around the rib cage, and around the hips and lower back. Another type of braces may be used that start at the neck and cover the torso, leaving the arms and legs free. These devices can be worn under the clothing 24 hours a day and are most effective when worn for long periods at a time.
Braces cannot reverse scoliosis but can prevent spinal curvature from becoming worse. Children can stop wearing braces after their bones stop growing, which usually occurs when boys need to shave daily, and girls have been menstruating for at least two years.
People with scoliosis whose conditions are causing major discomfort or reducing their quality of life may have surgery to reduce the severity of spinal curvature. Spinal fusion is the most common surgery used to treat scoliosis.
Your doctor uses a bone graft, rods, and screws to fuse the vertebrae together and keep your spine straight during a spinal fusion. Over time, the bone graft and vertebrae come together to form a single bone. In a child with rapidly progressing scoliosis, the doctor may install an adjustable rod that is lengthened every six months as the child grows.
Potential risks associated with surgery include bleeding, pain, nerve damage, and infection. Your doctor may prescribe medications to help with pain management, and recommend that you exercise and stretch regularly to stay flexible.
Can Scoliosis Be Prevented?
Most cases of scoliosis cannot be prevented, except for scoliosis caused by osteoporosis-related fractures. This type of scoliosis can be prevented by performing exercises that strengthen bones and by taking the recommended daily amount of calcium and vitamin D.
Detecting scoliosis and treating it early on can often prevent it from becoming worse. Take your children to the doctor yearly for a physical examination, and examine their spines regularly to detect changes in curvature. If you are an adult, take steps to prevent osteoporosis, such as increasing your bone mass and keeping your bones strong.
Where to Find Treatment for Scoliosis
Lompoc Valley Medical Center offers a wide range of primary care services, including bone density testing, imaging and radiology services, and surgery that can diagnose and treat scoliosis and osteoporosis. Visit our provider page today to make an appointment today and learn more about our many available inpatient and outpatient healthcare services.