Many people associate scoliosis (an abnormal curve in the spine) with children, but adults can also develop the condition. It is important to understand this because the condition in children and in adults requires different management. For example, if you were diagnosed as a child, there’s a good chance you had to wear a plastic brace to correct the curvature of the spine.
What is Scoliosis?
When diagnosed later in life, scoliosis is considered an adult deformity with a curvature of the spine that makes either a C or S shape. Depending on the person and their age, scoliosis may be painless and virtually symptom-free (other than the physical aspect). However, others experience a wide range of symptoms, including:
- Reduced range of motion
- Uneven walk
- Difficulty breathing
- Cardiovascular problems
- Mild to severe pain in the back
- Muscle spasms
- Clothes that fit unevenly
Scoliosis is considered present anytime the spine’s curvature is sideways by at least 10 degrees. When the majority of the curve is in the upper back or thoracic region, the person may also have a condition called kyphosis, or hunchback. This is one of the most severe types we treat.
Diagnosing the Condition
While there are certainly risk factors to scoliosis, this condition can develop seemingly out of the blue. In many cases, it is quite clear that a child has the condition, as their spine will be noticeably curved. To confirm this suspicion, Dr. Atwater may want to have several imaging tests performed, including x-rays. It is possible that there may be an underlying condition causing this curvature of the spine, such as a tumor, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, rheumatoid arthritis, or spina bifida. It’s important to rule those out before considering scoliosis surgery.
How Can I Manage Scoliosis?
The management of scoliosis will depend on a host of factors, including age, gender, pre-existing conditions, medical history, and any specific symptoms. For some people, no treatment will be necessary, as the spine will eventually correct itself. Others will require some form of either nonsurgical or surgical treatment. However, the percentage of people who will require surgery is very small.
Generally, scoliosis is managed through observation, bracing, and as a last resort, surgery. If the curvature is mild, x-rays and observation will likely be the route taken. By taking measurements and x-rays, we will be able to compare a patient’s progression, making any adjustments to the treatment plan as necessary.
Bracing is often recommended in adolescent cases, as these individuals are at the highest risk of the condition worsening. This type of treatment is most effective if done in the early stages, which is why it is important to be evaluated by a doctor right away if you suspect scoliosis. People with kyphosis, or hunchback, may also benefit from bracing when done in conjunction with light physical exercise and physical therapy to improve muscle strength.
Working with a back specialist is important when dealing with a case of scoliosis. In addition to the above treatment options, there are also a handful of things an orthopedic specialist can help you do at home to better manage your scoliosis, including:
- Dietary changes
- Physical therapy
- Stretches or yoga
- Nutritional supplements
- A good mattress
To discuss these treatment options or your specific scoliosis symptoms, please contact Dr. Atwater at Ortho Spine America.