June is National Scoliosis Awareness Month, and we want to join other physicians out there in educating patients about what scoliosis is and the importance of early detection.
Scoliosis is a term used to describe a sideways, abnormal curve in the spine. There are natural vertical curves in the spine that help your upper body maintain proper alignment and balance. When the spinal column has an abnormal side-to-side curvature, it is known as scoliosis, which can be disabling in severe cases.
The majority of scoliosis cases are mild, but require close monitoring to ensure the curve is not worsening. Although scoliosis can develop in children as early as birth, it often occurs during a growth spurt, just before the onset of puberty.
There are several different types of scoliosis, each with varying causes. However, about 80 percent of scoliosis cases are thought to be idiopathic, which means there is no exact known cause for the condition. Some causes may be the result of congenital spine deformities, which are either present at birth, inherited or cause by environmental factors. Other causes may include muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, spinal muscular atrophy, tumors and spina bifida.
Other types of scoliosis include:
- Neuromuscular: This type of scoliosis occurs when there is a problem with the way bones of the spine form. The bones either fail to form completely, or they may fail to separate from each other during development. This type of scoliosis is usually seen in people with other disorders, such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. Neuromuscular scoliosis is typically much more severe than other types.
- Functional: The spine is normal in this type of scoliosis, but there is an abnormal curve development as the result of a problem elsewhere in the body. For example, the curvature may develop due to one leg being shorter than the other.
- Degenerative: Degenerative scoliosis occurs in older adults. It is usually caused by a change in the spine due to spondylosis, a type of arthritis.
Signs and Symptoms
It is important to note that although scoliosis can cause back pain, that symptom is typically found in patients with degenerative scoliosis. Those with idiopathic scoliosis typically do not experience back pain, especially at the early onset of the condition.
That being said, if back pain is experienced and there are other signs of possible scoliosis, it is important to schedule an examination with a neurosurgeon. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of scoliosis may include:
- One shoulder is higher than the other
- One shoulder blade sticks out farther than the other
- Head is not directly centered about the pelvis
- Uneven waist
- One hip is raised and more prominent than the other
- One rib cage is higher than the other
- The entire body leans to one side
- Ribs are more prominent when bending over
- Changes in the texture or look of the skin over the spine
It is important to note that a scoliosis curve can worsen over time, causing the spine to rotate or twist. In addition to the spine curving side-to-side, this shifting or rotating can cause the ribs to stick out further on one side of the body. In these cases, it is especially important to have an examination by a neurosurgeon as severe cases of scoliosis can make it difficult for the lungs and/or heart to work correctly, causing chest pain and shortness of breath.
This is the first in a two-part series on scoliosis. Part two will discuss treatment options for those with scoliosis, including chiropractic manipulation, surgery and various lifestyle changes.
If you suspect you or your child may have symptoms of scoliosis, please contact Capital City Neurosurgery as soon as possible to schedule an exam.