Your spine helps hold up your body so you can walk, run and play sports. A healthy spine gently curves in and out between your neck and low back, while a spine with scoliosis curves from side to side. Commonly occurring in adolescents just before puberty, roughly three million new cases of scoliosis are diagnosed in the United States every year.
"Most diagnosed cases of pediatric scoliosis are mild," said Dr. Jaren Riley, orthopedic surgeon/scoliosis specialist at Rocky Mountain Pediatric OrthoONE. "A scoliosis specialist can help monitor your child and see if the condition worsens as they get older."
Sometimes scoliosis is easy to see because the curve in the spine can make the body tilt to one side or the other, causing one shoulder to be higher than the other or one shoulder blade to stick out more than the other. With a twisted spine, one side of the ribcage might stick out more. A routine physical exam will help your doctor make a diagnosis and examine the severity of the condition. Doctors measure scoliosis curves in degrees:
- A mild curve - Less than 20 degrees
- A moderate curve - Between 25 degrees and 40 degrees
- A severe curve - More than 50 degrees
"If your doctor diagnoses scoliosis, he or she may refer you to an orthopedic specialist," said Dr. Riley. "They see lots of teens with scoliosis and can decide if you need treatment."
If scoliosis isn't obvious from a physical exam, your doctor may diagnose it from a medical history because scoliosis is hereditary.
While most cases of scoliosis are mild, some children need medical intervention to prevent developing spinal deformities that continue as they grow.
"Severe scoliosis can be disabling," said Dr. Riley. "A severe spinal curve can reduce the space inside the chest and make proper lung function difficult."
Treatment options for more severe cases of scoliosis may include:
Braces: If a brace is necessary, an orthopedic specialist will decide which type and how it needs to be worn. A brace won't make the spine straight, but it will hold the spine in place to keep the curvature from getting worse.
Surgery: Some teens with severe scoliosis need a spinal fusion where an orthopedic surgeon straightens the spine and holds it in place with rods and screws. The surgeon then puts in bone grafts to fuse some of the vertebrae together.
As long as people with scoliosis receive proper treatment early on, they are often able to live full and active lives. If you suspect scoliosis, make an appointment here.