From the back, a normal spine appears as a straight line. Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine, seen from the back, twists abnormally, either to the right or to the left.
Although the cause of scoliosis may be unknown, it does have several known causes.
—–Scoliosis is, to a large degree, hereditary. If a parent has the condition, their offspring will likely inherit it, to a lesser or greater degree.
—–Scoliosis may occur because of a malformation in the spine itself, usually a result of a birth defect. The individual bones have not developed completely or are fused together. This causes the spine’s twisted form.
—–A similar twisting may occur because of diseases such as muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, or polio. With these diseases, not only is the spine twisted, but the muscles are usually too weak to maintain erect posture.
—–Some individuals, either from birth or through injury, have one leg shorter than the other. This results in the inability to maintain the spine’s normal positioning, and scoliosis can result.
—–Degenerative conditions and diseases such as arthritis, degenerating disks, and osteoporosis can damage the disks of the spine, and scoliosis results.
—–Tumors on the spine can also cause scoliosis, as an individual regularly leans away from the tumor to reduce the pain. These tumors are usually benign.
Scoliosis is more common in females than males, and in most cases, other than those caused by injury or disease, the symptoms appear before, or shortly after, the age of ten. If females suffer from scoliosis it is more likely that their condition will worsen over time. The good news is that most scoliosis is mild and needs no treatment.
The most visible sign of scoliosis is the body’s uneven appearance. One shoulder or one hip will appear higher than the other. The normally straight line of the waist will be sloped. One shoulder blade may protrude more than the other, as seen in the picture above. The curve in the spine itself may be visible. These changes can occur gradually, so it is important that the alignment of the spine be checked regularly, especially that of growing children.
There is no significant pain attached to the curving of the spine itself. However, there may be some associated back pain as the body must move in an abnormal manner. If the scoliosis is severe and worsening, it can eventually interfere with internal organs, possibly damaging the lungs and heart.
If scoliosis is present, it is necessary to take x-rays of the spine, to see the extent of the problem. If it is suspected that a tumor is causing the scoliosis, an MRI or other imaging test will be done. Once a diagnosis of scoliosis is confirmed, the physician will decide if treatment is needed.
There is no ‘cure’ for scoliosis, however, its progress can be limited, and its symptoms can be treated.
*****If the scoliosis is caused by a difference in leg length, an orthotic can usually balance out the body and control the curvature. One will have to be specially designed to fit the individual.
*****If the patient is young and the scoliosis is very mild, usually no treatment is advised, but the patient should be monitored on a regular basis to make sure the problem does not become more severe.
*****Even if the scoliosis is considered mild, a brace may be prescribed. There are several different braces and the physician will decide what is best for each specific individual. Braces are usually only used for young patients, whose bones are still growing. The brace should be worn at all times, (with some exceptions) until the patient is full grown. Braces cannot reverse the scoliosis but they will prevent the curve from becoming more acute.
*****If the scoliosis is severe, surgery may be advised. The most common surgery for scoliosis involves grafting two or more vertebrae together to prevent more curvature. The surgeon uses a variety of devices to hold the bones in place until they heal completely. If surgery is to be undertaken, the surgeon will discuss it thoroughly with the patient. At this time, the patient should ask questions so he/she understands the process, and what to expect. Fusion prevents movement in the area fused.
Some exercises may not be suitable for those with advanced scoliosis, but it is important to remain healthy and as active as possible. While exercise cannot cure scoliosis, it will keep the muscles strong and better able to support the back and other parts of the body.