Scoliosis is an abnormal lateral (side to side instead of forward or backward) curvature of the spine. This condition often develops in adolescence during the growth spurt before puberty. It is more common in girls than in boys. The exact cause of the most common type of scoliosis is unknown, but it is thought to be familial.
In less severe cases where the curvature of the spine does not exceed 20 degrees, treatment may be minimal or unnecessary. In cases where the curvature exceeds 20 degrees, the condition may require the placement and use of a back brace or spinal surgery to correct the curvature.
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Scoliosis often does not cause pain. Symptoms are more likely to be uneven shoulders or hips where one side is higher than the other or a shoulder blade protrudes. Other visible symptoms may be a protruding or twisted rib cage. In only a very small percentage, scoliosis causes twisting of the rib cage that interferes with lung capacity and function.
Scoliosis is normally divided into five types:
- Congenital: When someone is born with this condition it is usually because of an abnormality in one or more vertebrae that didn’t form properly. This is usually detected at three stages: Infantile, juvenile and adolescent.
- Idiopathic: The most common form, with unknown origin. Normally the bones show no abnormalities. It progresses six to seven times more frequently in females.
- Neuromuscular: Occurs in people with nervous system diseases such as cerebral palsy.
- Postural: This is not a true deformity but a misalignment due to pain where there no abnormality of the spine.
- Syndromic: This occurs in people with syndromes such as Marfan syndrome or others.
Curvatures of the spine are often discovered during school screening processes or by the family physician. Once scoliosis is discovered, it is important to monitor changes in the spine throughout the period of growth. Adolescent scoliosis accounts for about 80% of all cases and is the period of time in which rapid skeletal growth occurs.
A sideways spinal curvature of 10 degrees is considered scoliosis but it typically presents with no symptoms or signs of deformity. As the curve progresses beyond 20 degrees, it might be noticed that the body is tilted to one side or that clothes are uneven.
Although idiopathic scoliosis generally does not cause pain, it can throw the entire body out of balance and generate other issues like muscle spasms and joint misalignments that can in turn cause pain.
Types of Scoliosis Spinal Curves
Scoliosis can curve to the right (dextroscoliosis) or to the left (levoscoliosis). The most common curves are the following:
- Right thoracic curve: an upper back curve that bends to the right.
- Right thoracolumbar curve: also bends to the right, but extends from the upper back (thoracic) to the lower back (lumbar).
- Right lumbar curve: a curve bending to the right that starts and ends in the lower back.
- Double major curve: usually involves a right thoracic curve on top and a left lumbar curve on bottom. Because the two curves may counteract each other in appearance, the deformity may be less obvious.
When Scoliosis has been detected and it is less than 25 degrees, the recommended course of action is to take x-rays every 4 to 6 months to see if the scoliosis is progressive. If it is found to be progressive and goes past 20 or 25 degrees, the first course of action is usually bracing. A back brace is worn throughout the full skeletal development which is usually till the eighteenth year. The objective is to minimize the progression and to avoid the need for surgery.
In cases that aren’t severe, medical treatment may be unnecessary. If the condition progresses into further severity as shown by x-rays and more pronounced physical symptoms, medical intervention should be considered, including corrective spine surgery. The most common recommended surgery today is a posterior spinal fusion, which has the benefit of offering better corrections with fewer fusion levels and preserves more back mobility than earlier procedures.
Depending on the type and severity of the scoliosis, spinal surgery to correct scoliosis can involve the placement of multiple pins in the spine which are then used as anchors for a rod that straightens the curvature of the spine and holds it in place. Surgically correcting the scoliosis at earlier ages can prevent further spinal curvature and complications or pain as a result of scoliosis later in life.
At Hunt Spine, we are skilled at evaluating scoliosis on a case by case basis. About 90% of those who have been diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis have curves that never progress to the point where bracing or surgery is necessary. If you have scoliosis, your next step is a comprehensive consultation with our spine specialist in Los Angeles, whose primary goal is a sharp analysis of your scoliosis to determine the best possible treatment plan moving forward. You will achieve some of the best pain relief from our skilled neurosurgeon Los Angeles patients have come to trust and rely on. To set an appointment, please call our office today.