Scoliosis is the abnormal twisting and curvature of the spine. It is usually first noticed by a change in appearance of the back. There are several types of scoliosis based on the cause and age when the curve develops; the majority of patients have no known cause.
Typical signs include:
1. Visibly curved spine
2. One shoulder being higher than the other
3. One shoulder or hip being more prominent than the other
4. Clothes not hanging properly
5. A prominent ribcage
6. A difference in leg lengths
Back pain is common in adults with scoliosis. Young people with scoliosis may also experience some discomfort, but it's less likely to be severe. Seeking medical advice If you or your child has signs of scoliosis, make an appointment to see your spine specialist. They can examine your back and can refer you for an X-ray for confirmation. If you or your child are diagnosed with scoliosis, it is important to see a scoliosis specialist to talk about treatment options.
What causes scoliosis?
In around eight out of every 10 cases, a cause for scoliosis is not found. This is known as idiopathic scoliosis. A small number of cases are caused by other medical conditions, including:
1. Congenital scoliosis: Caused by birth defects.
2. Neuromuscular scoliosis: Common conditions are
- cerebral palsy
- a condition associated with brain damage
- muscular dystrophy
- a genetic condition that causes muscle weakness
- marfan syndrome
- a disorder of the connective tissues
3. Idiopathic Scoliosis: What causes idiopathic scoliosis is still unknown.
4. Adult scoliosis: In adults, age related changes in the discs and joints of the spine and a reduction in bone density may cause scoliosis. Adults can also experience worsening over time of previously undiagnosed or untreated scoliosis.
Scoliosis can usually be diagnosed after a physical examination of the spine, ribs, hips and shoulders. You may be asked to bend forward to see if any areas are particularly prominent. For example, one of your shoulders may be higher than the other or there may be a bulge in your back. Scans The specialist will take an X-ray to confirm the diagnosis of scoliosis.The X-ray images will also help determine the shape, direction, location and angle of the curve. The medical name for the angle the spine curves is known as the Cobb angle.In some cases, scans such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or a computerised tomography (CT) scan may also be recommended. Treating scoliosis in children If your child has scoliosis, their treatment will depend on their age and how severe it is. The main treatment options are:
Observation treatment is not always necessary for very young children because their condition often corrects itself as they grow. However, if the curve does not correct itself, it can reduce the space for the internal organs to develop in, so careful monitoring by a specialist is important. Casting in some cases affecting young children, the spine may need to be guided during growth in an attempt to correct the curve.
In a child aged under two years of age, this can sometimes be achieved by using a cast. A cast is an external brace to the trunk made out of a lightweight combination of plaster and modern casting materials. The cast is worn constantly and cannot be removed, but is changed regularly to allow for growth and remodelling. Bracing If the curve of your child's spine is getting worse, your specialist may recommend they wear a back brace while they are growing.
A brace cannot cure scoliosis or correct the curve, but it may stop the curve from getting worse. If a brace is used, it will need to be carefully fitted to your child's spine. Braces are often made of rigid plastic, although flexible braces are sometimes available. In general, modern back braces are designed so they are difficult to see under loose fitting clothing. It's usually recommended that the brace is worn for 23 hours a day, and is only removed for baths and showers.
However, it should be removed during contact sports and swimming. Regular exercise is important for children wearing a brace.The brace will usually have to be worn for as long as your child's body is still growing. For most children, this will mean they can stop wearing it when they are around 16 or 17 years old. Surgery is recommended, if your child scoliosis is severe and in case, other treatments have been unsuccessful, corrective surgery may be recommended. They type of surgery will depend on your child's age.
Surgery in children for younger children, generally those under the age of 8 to 9, an operation may be carried out to insert growing rods. These rods aim to allow for continued controlled growth of the spine while partially correcting the scoliosis. After surgery to insert the rods, your child will need to return to their specialist every 4 to 6 months to have the rods lengthened to keep up with the child's growth. In some cases, rods that can be lengthened using external magnets during an outpatient appointment may be used.
Surgery in teenagers and young adults operation where the spine is straightened using metal rods attached with screws, hooks, and/or wires, and bone grafts are used to fuse the spine in place. This metalwork will usually be left in place permanently, unless they cause any problems. After the operation, most children can return to school after a few weeks and can play sports after a few months. Possible complications of scoliosis Physical complications of scoliosis are rare, although serious problems can develop if it's left untreated.
Emotional issues having a visibly curved spine or wearing a back brace may cause problems related to body image Lung and heart problems In particularly severe cases of scoliosis the rib cage can be pushed against the heart and lungs, causing breathing problems and making it difficult for the heart to pump blood around the body. Nerve compression In some cases of scoliosis, particularly those affecting adults, the bones in the spine compress nearby.