Scoliosis, or an abnormal curvature of the spine, is one of the most common spinal deformities in children. About 3% of adolescents have scoliosis. It occurs most often during the growth spurt just before puberty. Most cases of scoliosis are mild, but some spine deformities continue to get more severe as children grow or develop in adulthood. If it becomes severe enough, scoliosis can be disabling.
Causes of Scoliosis
In some cases the cause of scoliosis is unknown, but it is usually attributed to genetic factors. However, less common types of scoliosis may be caused by:
- Birth defects affecting the development of the bones of the spine
- Neuromuscular conditions, such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy
- Injuries to or infections of the spine
- Aging and degenerative effects on the spine (most often affect people over the age of 65)
There are also certain risk factors for developing the most common type of scoliosis, including age and sex. Scoliosis typically begins during the growth spurt stage of puberty and girls have a much higher risk of the spine curve worsening.
Symptoms of Scoliosis
Some of the more common signs of scoliosis include:
- Uneven shoulders
- One shoulder blade that appears more prominent than the other
- One hip higher than the other
- Uneven waist
- A noticeable change in the way a person walks
In addition to curving side to side, the spine will also rotate or twist if a scoliosis curve gets worse. This causes the ribs on one side of the body to stick out farther than on the other side.
Diagnosis for Scoliosis
A doctor will discuss your or your child’s medical history and may ask questions about recent growth. It’s also common for doctors to perform physical exams and have your child stand and then bend forward from the waist, with arms hanging loosely, to see if one side of the rib cage is more prominent than the other.
Your doctor may also perform a neurological exam to check for:
- Muscle weakness
- Abnormal reflexes
Imaging tests such as X-rays or MRI can also be used to view the severity of the spine curve.
Treatment for Scoliosis
Most children with scoliosis have mild curves and probably won't need treatment. If treatment is necessary, one of the most common and effective methods involves outfitting the child with a back brace. This treatment is designed to allow the child to achieve skeletal maturity while preventing the curvature from progressing to the point where surgery may be required.
Other non-surgical scoliosis treatment options, which are designed to reduce symptoms to a comfortable level, include:
- Physical therapy
- Corticosteroid injections
- Pain and anti-inflammatory medications.
In severe cases, surgery may be required.