Your spine has the unenviable task of straightening and supporting your body as it distributes your weight effectively. To do this, the cervical and lumbar spines form a vertical S-shape, while your thoracic (chest) spine forms a slight C-shape. The spine shouldn’t deviate, though, from a straight line top to bottom.
Scoliosis occurs when the spine does deviate, taking on a sideways S- or C-shaped curve; the severity of the condition depends on the extent of the curve. Scoliosis can happen at any age, but it’s most commonly seen in children and adolescents, particularly among girls experiencing growth spurts. All told, some 6-9 million people are affected by scoliosis.
At Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center, with offices in Atlanta, Roswell, and Bethlehem, Georgia, our expert team of neurosurgeons understands how difficult living with scoliosis can be — especially if it’s happening to your child. That’s why we offer numerous conservative and surgical options to treat the condition. Here’s what you need to know.
While scoliosis is the most common spinal deformity occurring in school-age children, the large majority of cases have no discernible cause. There are two primary types: idiopathic and degenerative.
An idiopathic diagnosis means the condition has no known cause. AIS (adolescent idiopathic scoliosis) is the most common form, accounting for 85% of all cases. Girls with scoliosis outnumber boys by 10:1.
Degenerative scoliosis has a cause. It occurs when the spinal discs degrade asymmetrically, and the difference in height produces a curve. It generally affects the lumbar spine, and the symptoms are often milder than those of idiopathic scoliosis. The most common symptoms include low back pain, difficulty standing up straight, and sciatica.
With sciatica, a lumbar vertebral bone impinges on the nerve which causes pain and weakness that radiates down through one side of the buttocks and into the leg.
Additional symptoms of both types of scoliosis include:
Left untreated, scoliosis may cause the vertebrae to twist, causing changes in the rib alignment. This can reduce the amount of space in the chest for your lungs, affecting breathing.
Though it’s usually diagnosed during childhood, scoliosis can be discovered after puberty, at which point it’s called adult scoliosis. The horizontal curvature can occur from degenerative changes in your spine as you get older.
Diagnosis usually consists of a physical exam to determine the extent of the spine’s curvature, as well as imaging tests such as X-rays and a CT or MRI scan to visualize the spine and its related structures.
Scoliosis treatment depends on the child’s age at diagnosis and the severity of the curvature. In children, the primary treatment options are bracing and surgery.
According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, bracing is a commonly used treatment, but it’s only effective if the child is still growing and their curvature doesn’t exceed 25-40 degrees. A brace won’t correct the side-to-side curvature, but it will prevent it from becoming worse.
Braces are custom-made, conforming to the body’s contours, and most of the newer models are plastic. They’re small enough to be hidden under clothes, wrapping under the arm and around the rib cage, lower back, and hips.
For the best outcome, patients need to wear their brace for a minimum of 16 hours a day from the time they’re diagnosed until they stop growing. The more hours they wear it, though, the more effective it will be.
The two goals of adolescent scoliosis surgery are to stop the curve from getting worse and reduce any spinal deformity.
The most common surgery for scoliosis is a spinal fusion, where the surgeon fuses vertebrae together using a bone graft, rods, and screws.
The bone graft hooks the vertebrae together, the rods serve to keep the spine straight, and the screws hold the rods in place. The rods’ positions can be manipulated to match the child’s natural development. Eventually, the graft tissue and the vertebrae fuse into a single bone, giving the spine stability.
If your child has scoliosis, or if you think they might, it’s time to contact Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center to set up a consultation. Give us a call at any of our offices, or book online with us today.