The Concerned Parent’s Guide to Scoliosis

Everyone remembers that day in school when all the kids shuffled into the gym for a scoliosis check. Aside from a few giggles, you probably thought nothing of it as you ran out to recess when you were cleared to go. However, if your child is diagnosed with scoliosis, it’s a much scarier situation.

 Since scoliosis affects such a small number of kids in the U.S., most parents know very little about the condition or what they should do if their child is diagnosed. In order to calm your fears, I have provided answers to the most common questions concerned parents ask when their child is diagnosed with scoliosis.

What is Scoliosis?
Scoliosis is a medical condition that causes an unnatural curve of the spine. Usually found in children, scoliosis affects millions of people each year. If left untreated, scoliosis can worsen causing serious medical conditions, including chronic pain, limited mobility, disfigurement, and respiratory and digestive problems. There are two types of spinal curves in scoliosis: s-curve and c-curve. Just as they sound, people’s spines will resemble either an S-shape (two curves) or a C-shape (one curve) if diagnosed with scoliosis. Scoliosis may also be accompanied by lordosis, an abnormal curvature toward the front, or kyphosis, abnormal curvature towards the back. It is not uncommon for the spine to also be rotated.
Who Does Scoliosis Affect?
Scoliosis affects around 2-3% of children in the United States, and girls are more prone to developing the condition. Most children diagnosed will only have a slight to moderate curve in their spine and will naturally grow out of the condition. In rare cases, the spinal curve is so severe that it will require surgery.
How is Scoliosis Diagnosed?
Since the onset of scoliosis involves little pain, many schools across the country have taken proactive measures to diagnose the condition themselves. Children may also be taken to their physician for a diagnostic test as well. Signs of scoliosis include protrusion of one or more shoulder blades, uneven shoulders, or waist and leg length discrepancies.
How is Scoliosis Treated?
There are both surgical and non-surgical treatments available for scoliosis. The type of treatment used will depend on the severity of the scoliosis, as well as the child’s age and growth rate. The most common treatments include braces, surgery, and chiropractic treatment.
If a child’s bones are still growing and the scoliosis is only slight to moderate, braces are used to safely correct the spine. Although braces won’t cure scoliosis or reverse the curve, they usually prevent the curve from getting worse.
There are two types of braces used today: underarm or low-profile braces and Milwaukee braces. These braces are made of modern plastic materials and are contoured to conform to the body. The goal for these braces is to prevent the scoliosis from getting worse, as well as guide the spine to grow more naturally. They can be worn during the day or at night and can be removed; however, the more time the child wears the brace the better the results they will get.
Severe scoliosis usually worsens over time, so your doctor might recommend corrective surgery to reduce the severity of the spinal curve and prevent it from getting worse. The most common surgical procedure performed for scoliosis is spinal fusion. During this procedure, the surgeon will connect two or more of the bones in the vertebrae so that they don’t move independently. Pieces of bone or bone-like material are then placed between the vertebrae, and metal rods, hooks, and screws are used to hold the spine straight. Over time, the old and new bone material will fuse together and the spinal curve will be corrected. Surgery will only be performed after a child’s bones start growing unless the child’s bones are growing at an unusually fast rate.
Chiropractic treatment has been shown to help reduce the further development of scoliosis. There are a variety of treatments a chiropractor will perform depending on the severity and type of spinal curve. After an evaluation of the child’s unique scoliosis, the chiropractor will develop a non-invasive treatment plan that will help reduce the spinal curve and prevent it from getting worse. In rare circumstances, surgery may be required to prevent severe scoliosis from getting worse.
Although severe scoliosis can cause serious medical problems if left untreated, most cases are mild and require little treatment to ensure the child grows up healthy. To ease your worry, make sure your child’s school performs scoliosis checks, and if not, take your child to your physician for a diagnosis. If your child is diagnosed with scoliosis, consult your physician to determine the severity of the condition as well as what treatment options are available for you. Depending on the severity of the spinal curve and the age of the child, both surgical and non-surgical options can be performed. However, in most cases, the child will simply grow out of the condition.
About the Author:
Dr. Kevin Christie is a Chiropractic Physician and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) in Miami, FL at Health-Fit Chiropractic & Sports Medicine where he treats college athletes, as well as professional athletes from the NFL, MLB, and NHL. Dr. Christie was appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist to the Board of Athletic Trainers as the Chiropractic Advisor. He is also part of the IRONMAN® Provider Network through A.R.T., which sets up a treatment tent for every IRONMAN event to provide treatment to IRONMAN athletes.