Scoliosis: Early Detection, Treatment, and Coping Strategies

Scoliosis is a condition that refers to an abnormal curvature of the spine and can affect anyone regardless of their age, although is more common in adolescents. If the condition is not treated and left to deteriorate then a person can experience pain and other symptoms. Should the curvature become even more pronounced then this could lead to life-changing complications.

This article will explore scoliosis in-depth, focusing on its detection, treatment options, surgeries, and how to cope with the condition.

Who Can Develop Scoliosis?

If a person has scoliosis then their spine can take the shape of an ‘S’ or a ‘C’, as opposed to the natural straight line of a normally formed spine. This can impact a person’s mobility, flexibility, and general function, but for some, the curvature does not cause any issues.

It can develop in people of any age but is most common during adolescence (between the ages of 10-18). infants (0-3 years) and older adults (60 and above) are the second and third most affected age groups. As such, it can be said that almost anyone could develop scoliosis at some point in their life.

The Types and Causes of Scoliosis

The cause of scoliosis is not always known (idiopathic) and in children, idiopathic scoliosis accounts for 80% of all cases. However, several types of scoliosis have an identifiable cause. 

  • Congenital Scoliosis – This type of scoliosis is the result of the vertebrae failing to form properly at birth, with these spinal malformations becoming noticeable as a person gets older.
  • Neuromuscular Scoliosis – This form of scoliosis is caused by neurological or muscular conditions such as the development of a spinal tumor. People who have Cerebral Palsy can also be prone to scoliosis.
  • Degenerative Scoliosis – As a person gets older, the bones in their spine can degenerate, resulting in them being more susceptible to fractures. These fractures can sometimes heal incorrectly, causing a curvature.
  • Other forms of Scoliosis – Scoliosis can also be caused by rarer conditions such as some forms of connective tissue disorders or metabolic diseases.

Scoliosis: Early Detection and Diagnosis

In many cases, a spinal curvature will be visible, but not always. Many people find out they have the condition following an unrelated physical exam or by visiting their doctor after experiencing back pain.

To conclusively diagnose scoliosis a doctor will perform a physical examination, a visual assessment, and a measurement of the curvature will be recorded using an instrument called a Cobb angle. This will be followed by imaging tests such as an X-ray or MRI scan to evaluate the condition of the spine and any other issues that may be present. 

Treating Scoliosis

Pain is not always a symptom of scoliosis but as a person gets older, any back pain they experience could be more severe than someone who does not have the condition. Because of this, it is important to consider the possible treatment options available. 

A common sign of scoliosis is an uneven shoulder or hip height, a visible curve or tilt of the spine, and waistline that does not appear symmetrical. People who have a mild curvature may not need to undergo any treatment, while more severe curvatures will likely require medical intervention.

Using the Cobb Angle, a person who has a curvature of over 30° or above may need to wear a back brace. Exercises and physical therapy may also be recommended. Meanwhile, people who have a curvature of 50° and above will likely be given the option of surgery. 

It is extremely rare for treatment to remove any curvature completely and the overall aim of a treatment plan is to reduce the curvature to a point that allows the person to live an unimpeded lifestyle. The type of treatment plan will also depend on the person’s age, their overall feelings about the issue, and whether their physical appearance is impacting their wellbeing. 

Scoliosis and Physical Therapy

A popular treatment for scoliosis is physical therapy which is proven naturally address spinal curvature by:

  • Educating the individual about the condition
  • Creating a bespoke exercise program. Including stretching, strengthening, and stabilization exercises
  • Manual therapy such as massage, myofascial release, or trigger point therapy
  • Postural training
  • Breathing exercises
  • Functional movement training

Coping with Scoliosis

Scoliosis, particularly when the curvature is visibly noticeable and impacts a person’s functionality can be damaging to an individual’s mental health. If this is the case, then a person should not hesitate in speaking to a mental health professional who can arrange counseling or therapy to manage the mental effects of the condition. Living with a physical abnormality can even lead to depression if no action is taken. 

Surgeries for Scoliosis

Spinal fusion is the most common type of surgery for people with severe scoliosis. This involves fusing the affected vertebrae to correct the curvature and provide stability to prevent any further curvature. This operation involves a surgeon making small incisions to access the spine so that small, metal rods, screws, and hooks, in addition to a bone graft can be fused in place. This ensures that the affected vertebrae form into a single bone mass and cannot move. 

The bone graft will typically be an autograft (a piece of bone taken from the patient), usually taken from the hip due to their high success rate when used for fusion. 

However, many medical professionals believe spinal fusion is a somewhat dated procedure that has too many drawbacks. By fusing the vertebrae together, they can no longer move, and therefore a person’s mobility in the spine is significantly reduced. This can even make it difficult to perform simple movements such as bending over. 

Furthermore, the metal devices used in the operation can cause damage to other, healthy vertebrae over time. This can increase the chance of fractures and potentially lead to the development of spinal diseases. 

As an alternative to spinal fusion, many people are benefitting from modern spinal devices which emulate the natural movement of the vertebrae. This device is a full replacement for the affected vertebrae and allows the patient to retain a full range of motion, while also avoiding further degradation in the spine.