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Scoliosis – all you need to know: causes, symptoms and treatment

Credits: KatarzynaBialasiewicz / istock
Scoliosis – all you need to know: causes, symptoms and treatment
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We always try to make sure that our children stand up straight, sit correctly and don’t carry objects that are too heavy. This is because in some part of our minds, we are worried that they might develop scoliosis. But what exactly is it?

What is scoliosis?

The term scoliosis refers to a permanent deformity of the spine. The vertebrae which make up the spinal column start to bend and become deformed. A vertebra can bend forwards, backwards or to the side. As well as spinal problems, scoliosis can lead to deformation of the thorax and surrounding areas. 

Scoliosis should not be confused with “pseudo scoliosis”, or a “scoliotic attitude”, which results from poor posture, with no twisting of the vertebrae or deformation. This can now be easily corrected. In order to resolve this problem, Pilates and swimming are recommended.

It should be noted that poor posture, practicing aggressive sports, carrying an overly heavy schoolbag and poor diet do not cause scoliosis. By contrast, they could very well cause a pseudo scoliosis, or exacerbate actual scoliosis that is already present.

Causes of scoliosis

Scoliosis generally appears in childhood, and it is very important that treatment is started as early as possible.

Scoliosis is classed into three categories:

  • Scoliosis due to a health condition such as muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy, which is referred to as neuromuscular scoliosis
  • Scoliosis linked to a congenital malformation.
  • Idiopathic scoliosis, meaning that we do not know the origin.

Many health professionals highlight the fact that scoliosis has a hereditary aspect. In fact, statistics show that scoliosis is genetically passed down in 70 to 80% of cases. This is the most frequent type of scoliosis.

When scoliosis is the consequence of another symptom or condition, we call it secondary scoliosis. 

What are the symptoms?

The visible signs of scoliosis are the following:

  • malformation of the spine
  • the appearance of poor posture
  • a lump on one side of the back when the person leans forward (which is referred to as a “hump”)

However, at the early stage, scoliosis does not necessarily cause pain. Back pain is however a sign of advanced scoliosis.

Therefore, the best way to detect whether your child is affected by scoliosis is to regularly check their spine.

During doctors visits, you will notice the doctor examining your child’s shoulders. In fact, they may notice a skeletal asymmetry, which could be a warning sign.

Who is mainly affected by scoliosis?

We have mentioned children several times above. This isn’t to frighten you, but it is because in the vast majority of cases, scoliosis appears during periods of growth. These are also the times at which scoliosis tends to be exacerbated. In terms of who it affects, in 80% of cases, it affects girls.

It is thought that around 2 to 3% of adolescents present with scoliosis. However, the most serious cases affect less than 1% of them.

Treatment for scoliosis

Scoliosis requires a long term treatment approach. In less serious cases, there is no particular treatment necessary. The child simply needs to be monitored by a doctor. However, swimming is recommended, as this sport can help extend and straighten the spine.

Serious scoliosis is diagnosed based on the angle of the spinal curve. There are two recommended treatments:

  • Wearing a back brace: a back brace aims to slow down the progression of scolisis. It has shown excellent results in terms of containing the malformation, which is stopped from becoming any worse. In certain cases, there can also be a partial straightening of the spine. However, this only rarely happens.
scoliosis
Credits: Weiss HR. Scoliosis 2007
  • Surgery: statistically, this treatment is only suitable in 10% of cases of idiopathic scoliosis, the most serious cases, with spinal curvature of over 50°. Surgery can only be carried out on very young children: it requires implanting rods to prevent the spine from curving. It only works when the child is very young.
spinal rods scoliosis
Credits: Common Files Wikipedia

These rods can lead to rigidity in the back and limited movement, as well as pain in the future. The operation is only carried out in the most serious cases.

Therefore, the best treatment for scoliosis is prevention. Don’t hesitate to ask your family doctor for a check up of your child’s back. This simple request could prevent spinal deformity.

Related articles: 

7 postures to avoid back pain

Staying seated for more than 7 hours a day: a real health risk

Back pain: mechanical causes, or inflammation?