Scoliosis: A Spinal Disorder

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About 5 to 7 million Americans are affected by a disorder called scoliosis. It is a medical condition in which the spine curves away from the middle, side to side. People who have scoliosis sometimes also have lordosis (curving of the spine inward) or kyphosis (curving of the spine outward). There are three different types of scoliosis, dependent upon how it is contracted. They are: a) congenial, b) neuromuscular, and c) idiopathic, or of unknown cause. Scientists do believe that genetics play a role; however the precise mechanisms and relationships to the disorder remain unclear. One of the most common forms of scoliosis is adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. Girls are more prone than boys in developing a severe form of it, requiring medical attention.

There are times when the spine itself is normal, but scoliosis develops in response to a problem somewhere else in the body. Muscle spasms in the back, a difference between leg lengths, and even poor posture can cause this type of functional scoliosis. Neuromuscular scoliosis can be very severe. In this form of scoliosis, one has difficulty with muscle control and strength, due to diseases such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, or polio. Scoliosis thus affects individuals to various degrees of severity. People with a milder form of functional scoliosis can seek treatment through chiropractic care; however, those with a more serious condition do need to seek more invasive medical solutions.

Not only does scoliosis limit one’s range of physical abilities, it also may hurt one’s emotional growth and outlook, especially in the teenagers it commonly afflicts. In some cases of scoliosis, the damage is so severe that the rib cage presses in toward the heart and lungs, thereby inducing further health problems such as lung infections and pneumonia.

Scoliosis often exists in a mild form that can be detected only by trained professionals. There is no need for great concern in these cases, as long as the condition is being monitored. In any case, when children and teenagers have scoliosis, their conditions need to be followed with great care, since their bones are in the midst of rapid growth. Their spines can grow and curve even more to the side within a few months. Thus, for those in this age group, consistent and frequent checkups are an absolute must.

Several methods are used to help detect scoliosis. The best way to begin is to get a postural analysis during your physical examination. If there seems to be significant abnormal curvature in your spine, your doctor may then refer you to a specialist. Next, an X-ray is taken of the spine to determine the location and degree of spinal curvature.

After the X-ray, your doctor may also want to examine your wrist and bones too. Knowing your skeletal age and characteristics will help your doctor evaluate the rate of bone growth and progression of scoliosis. Your doctor may ask you to go in for checkups regularly in order to monitor the spinal curvature.

There is also a device called the inclinometer, or Scoliometer, which helps estimate the amount of curvature in the spine. The Scoliometer is handy in that it reduces X-ray exposure and is completely pain-free and non-invasive.

When the scoliosis progresses slowly, very little treatment may be needed. On the other hand, scoliosis in pre-menstrual girls is very likely to become aggressive in growth, especially the year before their first menstruation when they grow at a very rapid rate. Scoliosis can be exacerbated very quickly during this growth spurt. Once menstruation begins, their growth rate slows down and the scoliosis does not develop as rapidly.

Besides periodic checkups, treatment options may involve either the use of a brace or even surgery. People with mild cases of scoliosis generally lead very normal lifestyles. Braces are used when a child is still growing. The brace can help prevent further curving of the spine, but cannot cure scoliosis or forcibly reverse the curvature already there. When the scoliosis shows signs of potentially harming vital organ function, surgery for scoliosis – also known as spinal fusion – may help reduce the degree of curvature and prevent such damage. Doctors resort to surgery in only the most severe, debilitating cases of scoliosis.

Scoliosis can sometimes be very painful, and chiropractic care can help relieve much of that pain. Scoliosis is a disorder that cannot be “cured” per se, but chiropractic care can certainly help in managing and reducing the discomfort, enabling one to live with scoliosis more easily.

Scoliosis can be a worrisome, uncomfortable disorder even in its mildest stages. If you are concerned that you or child may have scoliosis, please contact your physician immediately.