According to research, an estimated six to nine million people in the United States have been diagnosed with scoliosis. Studies further demonstrate that adolescents and women are much more likely to develop this condition of the spine. Scoliosis is characterized by abnormal curvature of the spine causing a deviation to one side. It causes a physical deformity making the spine resemble the letter “C” or “S” instead of the letter “I.” The condition can be painful, but many times patients may experience no symptoms other than visible indications.
At OrthoAspen, our orthopedic spine specialists are experienced and skilled in diagnosing and treating scoliosis. We address conditions of the spine with conservative approaches whenever possible—without major interruption to your daily routines and activities.
While scoliosis affects more women than men and can be prevalent in children, the spine condition can occur at any age. The disorder can either develop in the mid or the lower back, with the former being more common.
There are several types of scoliosis, which include:
- Idiopathic Scoliosis
This comprises the group of scoliosis cases in which the underlying cause has not been identified. There seems to be a genetic predisposition for idiopathic scoliosis, as it is more common in people with a family history of the condition.
- Functional or Nonstructural Scoliosis
This refers to a category of scoliosis where the spine looks curved even in the absence of any structural defect. This may result from an underlying inflammatory condition or as a compensatory effect to balance leg inequalities or disproportionate muscle development.
- Neuromuscular Scoliosis
This form of scoliosis can occur due to neurological changes which affect the muscles such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida and polio.
- Syndrome Associated Scoliosis
This refers to scoliosis which develops as part of a syndrome, such as Marfan syndrome and skeletal dysplasia. Marfan syndrome is an inherited connective tissue disorder affecting the ligaments of the spine. It increases the laxity of the ligaments making them unable to hold the vertebrae firmly in place. Skeletal dysplasia is a growth disorder characterized by dwarfism due to abnormalities in the growth and development of bones and cartilage.
- Degenerative Scoliosis
This form of scoliosis is associated with degenerative changes in the spine due to the aging process—osteoporosis, spondylosis or degenerative disc disease. Some patients may develop a curve to compensate for the imbalance due to scoliosis. However, this compensatory curve is less severe.
In the initial stage, idiopathic scoliosis may be asymptomatic. Additional symptoms of scoliosis depend on the cause, severity and age of the patient.
Common symptoms of scoliosis include:
- Visible spinal curvature
- Abnormal gait
- Uneven shoulders and hips
- Different lengths of the legs
- Prominent rib or shoulder blade when the patient bends in the front
- Uncomfortable back pain and inflammation
- Rare instances of breathlessness (typically when bending the back)
To properly diagnosis scoliosis, your OrthoAspen spine specialist will go over family and medical history along with performing a physical and neurological examination. The physical examination involves palpation of the spine, Adam’s forward bending test and plumb line test.
A neurologic examination involves the evaluation of any signs of neurological injury such as numbness, muscle weakness or abnormal reflexes. X-ray of the spine in different positions such as standing and bending forward is also helpful.
Other specific tests for diagnosing scoliosis include a measure of the degree of spinal curve (scoliometer) and the degree of vertebral rotation and skeletal maturity. Additional tests to identify the cause of scoliosis may also be conducted.
Once scoliosis has been diagnosed, your OrthoAspen physician will help devise a treatment plan. Whenever possible, we’ll implement conservative treatment methods first.
A nonoperative treatment plan is based on the cause of scoliosis, the degree and position of the spinal curve and the age of the patient.
Nonoperative treatment approaches of scoliosis include:
No treatment is required for a spinal curve below 20 degrees. However, patients are advised regular follow-up visits by the spine specialist. These patients are carefully monitored for the progression of the curve.
- Back Bracing
A back brace may be recommended in children with a curve between 20 to 40 degrees to stop the progression of scoliosis and prevent surgery. Bracing is not effective in individuals with congenital or neuromuscular scoliosis.
When an individual experiences a severe curve which may affect other vital functions of the body or whose spine is experiencing a high progression rate, surgery may be recommended. Surgery cannot wait until the skeletal maturity is reached. Surgery for scoliosis aims to rectify the curve of the spine utilizing metal rods, screws and hooks for stabilization the spine. An open or minimally invasive surgical approach can be used.
No matter what treatment option is pursued, you can rest assured that your OrthoAspen physician will take great care to ensure a safe and effective recovery.
If you’d like to request an appointment with one of our OrthoAspen specialists, click here or call us at 970-544-1289.