All spines have natural curves from front to back. Scoliosis is a progressive, abnormal sideways curvature of the spine. The spine often curves in an "S" or "C" shape from side to side. Scoliosis is often first detected in childhood or the early teen years while the bones of the spine are still growing. It is most often found in girls, but boys can have it too.
Scoliosis is a problem not only because it can change a person's appearance. It can also limit a person's ability to participate in sports or athletic activities. Most importantly, if untreated, scoliosis can cause serious medical problems. Scoliosis can lead to pain, stiffness, and severe spinal deformity. Because the spine and rib cage are connected, scoliosis can change the position of the ribs. Pressure from severe spinal distortion may affect nearby organs. Health risks from severe spine curvature include neurologic problems from pressure on nerves, arthritis, and even lung and heart problems.
Why is it important to detect scoliosis?
Signs of scoliosis include: one shoulder higher than the other, an uneven waistline, or one shoulder blade sticking out further than the other. But signs can appear very slowly and may not be noticed. Professional assessment is the best way to detect scoliosis.
Children should be examined before age 12 or 13, especially if there is a history of any spinal deformity in their family. In order to detect scoliosis early, some parents choose to have their child checked by a chiropractic doctor at birth, then regularly throughout childhood. All children should be followed closely throughout the teen years to make sure a curve doesn't develop.
Because early detection is so important, screening is often done in public schools beginning around the 5th grade. Screening should be repeated every 6 to 9 months until the 20's, when bones are mature. Find out whether your child's school screens for scoliosis and, if so, how often. If an abnormal curvature is found, the child is referred to the family health care professional for more extensive testing.
A Doctor of Chiropractic is specially trained to treat problems of the spine. He or she can determine the presence and extent of scoliosis. The vertebrae (bones of the spine) are x-rayed to check for rotation and direction of curve. Your chiropractor will order x-rays of the spine from various views. Bending and stretching positions may also be x-rayed. It is important to accurately establish the degree and severity of the curvature for future comparison. Also, the child's spinal maturity is measured.
Your chiropractor's goal is to detect scoliosis while the child is still young. When started on an exercise and chiropractic therapy program early enough, it is possible to slow, stop, or even reverse the progress of spinal curvature.
How is scoliosis treated?
Medical management often involves a "wait and see" approach to scoliosis. While some cases may progress slowly, other curves may progress very rapidly, creating significant physical deformity. When the problem becomes severe enough, unsightly braces or even surgery are standard treatment. The chiropractic approach is to use specific spinal adjustments along with a program of corrective exercises. The doctor's hands or a special instrument are often used to apply precisely directed force to the spine. This returns the vertebrae to a more normal position. This force is adjusted according to the patient's age and size.
With careful monitoring, regular treatment, and exercise, the spinal deformity of scoliosis can be minimized and more invasive procedures avoided.
What can I expect in the future?
With early detection and early treatment, chiropractic doctors have seen excellent results with scoliosis cases. This safe, natural approach to treatment has helped many children find a healthier, happier life.