Scoliosis is not a disease – it is a descriptive term. All spines have curves. Some curvature in the neck, upper trunk and lower trunk is normal. Humans need these spinal curves to help the upper body maintain proper balance and alignment over the pelvis. However, when there are abnormal side-to-side (lateral) curves in the spinal column, we refer to this as scoliosis.
Who gets scoliosis?
Scoliosis affects a small percentage of the population, approximately percent. However, scoliosis runs in families. If someone in a family has scoliosis, the likelihood of an incidence is much higher—approximately 20 percent. If anyone in your family has curvature of the spine, you should be examined for scoliosis.
Scoliosis in Children
The vast majority of scoliosis is "idiopathic", meaning its cause is unknown. It usually develops in middle or late childhood, before puberty, and is seen more often in girls than boys. Though scoliosis can occur in children with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, spinal bifida and other miscellaneous conditions, most scoliosis is found in otherwise healthy youngsters.
Scoliosis in Adults
Scoliosis usually develops during childhood, but it also can occur in adults. Adult scoliosis may represent the progression of a condition that actually began in childhood, and was not diagnosed or treated while the person was still growing. What might have started out as a slight or moderate curve has progressed in the absence of treatment.
In other instances, adult scoliosis can be caused by the degenerative changes of the spine. Other spinal deformities such as kyphosis or round back are associated with the common problem of osteoporosis (bone softening) involving the elderly. As more and more people reach old age in the U.S., the incidence of scoliosis and kyphosis is expected to increase. If allowed to progress, in severe cases, adult scoliosis can lead to chronic severe back pain, deformity, and difficulty in breathing.
The Importance of Early Detection in Children
Idiopathic scoliosis can go unnoticed in a child because it is rarely painful in the formative years. Therefore, parents should watch for the following "tipoffs" to scoliosis beginning when their child is about 8 years of age:
- uneven shoulders
- prominent shoulder blade or shoulder blades
- uneven waist
- elevated hips
- leaning to one side
Any one of these signs warrants an examination by the family physician, pediatrician or pediatric orthopaedist.
In planning treatment for each child, an orthopaedist will carefully consider a variety of factors, including the history of scoliosis in the family, the age at which the curve began, the curve's location and severity of the curve.
Most spine curves in children with scoliosis will remain small and need only to be watched by an orthopaedist for any sign of progression. If a curve does progress, an orthopaedic brace can be used to prevent it from getting worse. Children undergoing treatment with orthopaedic braces can continue to participate in the full range of physical and social activities.
Electrical muscle stimulation, exercise programs, and manipulation have not been found to be effective treatments for scoliosis.
If a scoliotic curve is severe when it is first seen, or if treatment with a brace does not control the curve, surgery may be necessary. In these cases, surgery has been found to be a highly effective and safe treatment.
Come consult with our specialists to find out if treatment is indicated. Book an appointment online, or call us at (561) 967-4400 to let us help you set up your appointment.