We all have spines that are naturally curved. These curves produce the rounding of shoulders and the sway of the lower back. By contrast, in persons with scoliosis, the spine seems to have abnormal curves with a rotational deformity.
What Does Scoliosis Look Like?
To the eye, scoliosis appears as though the spine has been turned on its axis, like a corkscrew. The normal spine has a subtle curve. With scoliosis, the spinal curvature is severe. Scoliosis causes a lack of symmetry throughout shoulders, trunks, and waistlines. Mild scoliosis may be barely noticed. With severe forms, persons may experience more pronounced disfigurement, with resultant back pain and postural fatigue.
What causes scoliosis?
Hereditary factors are certainly present, but the causes that produce the most common form, idiopathic scoliosis, are unknown. We do know that scoliosis is generally seen in teenagers at the onset of adolescence, but may also have its onset in infancy. It is twice as common in girls as boys. For severe cases – including spinal curves greater than 30 degrees – girls are between 8 to 10 times more at risk than boys. These severe cases may be associated with heart failure.
Orthopedic surgeons are best qualified to evaluate and treat deforming spinal conditions like scoliosis. However, a good resource for further information is:
The National Scoliosis Foundation
5 Cabot Place, Stoughton, MA 02072
Phone: (617) 341-6333 / Fax: (617) 341-8333 / www.scoliosis.org/
Treatment of Scoliosis
In most scoliosis cases, the persons affected will need to watch closely and follow up with our practice if the curve should begin to worsen. In this case, your orthopedic doctors will examine the spine and observe the progress of the deformity by using a series of x-rays. For certain cases, as the spine continues to grow, your orthopedic doctor may recommend the use of a brace. Physical therapy exercises have not been shown to be an effective treatment for scoliosis.
When is Surgery Required?
More serious cases may require aggressive treatment, which could include surgery. Surgical treatment of scoliosis may be indicated for these reasons:
- When surgery may prevent further progression of the curve
- When brace treatment has failed to control progress of the curve
- To correct or improve the cosmetic appearance
- To alleviate discomfort or postural fatigue
Common surgical treatment for scoliosis requires a spine fusion using special stainless steel rods, hooks, and a bone graft. The orthopedic surgeon attaches rods to the spine with hooks and the spinal curvature is carefully straightened. They then place small strips of bone graft over the spine to fuse it into a straight position.
Recovery from Surgery
The bone graft heals over several months. Where the rods and bone grafts are, the spine will be solid and will not curve again. The part of the spine that has not been fused will continue to be flexible and will allow nearly normal movement.