Scoliosis is a common spine disorder that affects about 10 percent of women and 5 percent of men in the United States.
This condition is defined by a sideways curvature of the spine, usually in the shape of a letter “C” or “S.” Scoliosis can cause pain and discomfort, and can limit regular activity if left untreated. This is why it’s important to begin screening children for scoliosis at a young age, to help avoid potential problems later in life.
There are many common misconceptions about what causes scoliosis, like carrying a heavy backpack, athletic activity, poor posture or a lack of calcium. These claims are false. Typically, scoliosis first appears in adolescence, after the age of 10, and the exact cause is unknown. This is called idiopathic scoliosis. However, scoliosis can also be caused by an underlying problem, like an injury or infection.
There are two main types of scoliosis — structural and nonstructural. Structural scoliosis refers to a fixed spinal curve that doctors treat case by case. Nonstructural scoliosis is a temporary, changing curve, caused by an underlying condition such as a difference in leg lengths, inflammatory conditions or muscle spasms. Doctors treat this type of scoliosis by correcting the underlying problem.
Scoliosis usually causes back pain, along with a variety of other symptoms. In those with scoliosis, one shoulder, shoulder blade or hip might appear higher and more prominent than the other. When standing with the arms hanging at the sides, there might be more space between the arm and the body on one side. In addition, a person’s head might not be centered over the pelvis, or the waist might be flattened on one side.
To test for scoliosis, a physician will first ask about a person’s medical history, as this disorder can be genetic. Then, a doctor will perform a physical exam and take an X-ray of the spine to confirm the diagnosis. These evaluations will help to determine the location, shape and pattern of a curve. In order to be classified as scoliosis, a spinal curve must measure greater than 10 degrees.
Those diagnosed with mild scoliosis might only need periodic observation to ensure that the curve does not worsen. However, those with more severe scoliosis might require medical treatment, such as surgery to correct the curve. Doctors might also recommend that patients with scoliosis wear a back brace to stop their spinal curve from worsening.
The Scoliosis Research Society recommends that girls be screened for scoliosis twice during adolescence, at ages 10 and 12, and boys just once at age 12. Testing for scoliosis and treating it immediately can help to prevent future pain and discomfort. June is Scoliosis Awareness Month, so now is the perfect time to schedule a screening with a physician.
Dr. Eric Bradburn is with Internal Medicine and Pediatrics, KentuckyOne Health Primary Care Associates.