What is Scoliosis?
Scoliosis is a three dimensional deformity of the spine which presents as a lateral curvature when viewed from behind. The spine typically has curves when viewed from the side and these curves distribute the mechanical stress across the body. Scoliosis affects between 2-3% of people and typically starts between the ages of 10-15.
Scoliosis can occur for several different reasons including degeneration, congenital or embryological malformations, or it can be idiopathic meaning the cause is unknown. About 80% of those diagnosed with scoliosis fall into the idiopathic category and these curves usually begin to develop around puberty.
Common signs or symptoms of scoliosis include back pain, muscle spasms, uneven shoulders, waist, and/or hips, leaning to one side, a prominence of the ribs on one side when leaning forward, amongst other possible physical deformities.
How is Scoliosis Diagnosed?
Scoliosis is determined via several tests which can include a physical examination, an x-ray, CT scan, and/or MRI. The standard test used by pediatricians, chiropractors, and in school screenings is called the Adam’s Forward Bend Test. As the individual bends forward the doctor looks for asymmetries and abnormal curvatures in the spine. Although an important and helpful tool for identifying scoliosis, this test cannot tell the doctor the type, degree, or severity of the deformity. A positive Adam’s Test is usually followed up with an x-ray to determine the exact degree and severity of the curvature.
Treatment for scoliosis depends on a number of factors including age, degree of curvature, and the location of the curvature. Depending on the severity of the scoliotic curve or curves and how these impact the individual, several different treatment options may be available. Conservative care can include chiropractic adjustments, soft tissue work, physical therapy, and/or observation with periodic x-rays.
Other treatments that may be called for can include bracing and surgery. Braces are used for individuals who have not yet reached skeletal maturity in order to prevent the curves from progressing which is successful about 80% of the time. Surgery is usually only required in severe cases where curves are 40 degrees or more and expected to progress or if the curve affects the organs or nerves. The type of surgery done is based on the age and health
conditions of the individual but usually includes rigid rods to straighten the spine as well as spinal fusion. Surgery risks and benefits should be carefully weighed, some of the risks include pain, infection, severe blood loss, nerve damage, and paraplegia. There is no guarantee that surgery will stop curve progression and symptoms in every individual but many patients do benefit from surgery in severe cases.
How Chiropractic Can Help
Chiropractors utilize a variety of treatments including spinal adjustments, massage and other soft tissue techniques, and exercises in order to treat a variety of conditions including scoliosis. Chiropractic adjustments are used to increase joint motion, support the nervous system, decrease muscle spasms, and decrease discomfort. Soft tissue techniques are used to alleviate pain, increase range of motion, assist in tendon healing, and decrease adhesions and scar tissue in and between layers of soft tissue. Exercises are used to correct muscular imbalances, increase strength, and enhance stability of the spine.