The spine is an essential part of your body. Without it, you could not keep yourself upright or stand up. It gives your body structure and support and allows you to move about freely or bend with flexibility. Your spine also protects your spinal cord, the column of nerves that connects the brain with the rest of your body so that you can control your movements. Without a spinal cord, you could not move any part of your body, nor could your organs function. Maintaining your spine’s health is one of the keys to enjoying an active lifestyle.
What Are Spinal Deformities?
A normal, healthy spine is curved slightly in the shape of an “S.” A spinal deformity changes the curve of the spine or its alignment. Some people experience spinal cord deformities as they age or the result of an accident, while a congenital spinal deformity presents at birth. All can cause pain, mobility issues, and even neurological problems if not correctly diagnosed and treated.
There are three main types of common spinal deformities, and each affects the spine in different ways:
Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine curves to the side. While scoliosis is typically diagnosed during childhood, some cases may go undetected until adulthood or develop as you get older. Adult-onset scoliosis may occur as the discs wear down and the spine weakens due to aging. If left untreated, scoliosis can cause long-term physical complications, including those that affect the heart and lungs.
Often called “hunchback,” kyphosis is a condition that occurs when the spine curves outwards more than it should. More prevalent in older women, kyphosis is usually caused by a vertebrae fracture resulting from osteoporosis. However, a spinal deformity like kyphosis can affect anyone at any age. While common in adults, kyphosis can also be congenital or develop during childhood due to slouching and poor posture.
Lordosis, or “swayback,” is a condition that occurs in the lower back when the spine starts to curve inward. Lordosis is one of the congenital spinal deformities that can affect a developing fetus. However, lordosis can affect anyone at any age, as risk factors include poor posture or being overweight.
What Are the Causes of Spinal Deformity?
If you wonder what causes scoliosis and other spinal deformities, it’s difficult to pinpoint one specific reason. Your medical and health histories are vital factors, including accidents, genetic defects, previous spine surgery, or certain diseases and illnesses. Some spinal deformities are congenital and diagnosed at birth.
What Are the Symptoms of Spinal Deformity?
Spinal deformities may have different characteristics and physical appearances, with symptoms that vary from one patient to another. Some people with a spinal deformity experience severe pain, while others may initially present with mild symptoms.
Spinal deformity symptoms may include:
- Pain that radiates into the legs and arms
- Physical signs, like a large hump in the upper back
How Are Spinal Deformities Diagnosed?
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, a comprehensive spine exam will allow the doctor to detect a spinal deformity by assessing the shape and alignment of your spine. Depending on your pain level and general discomfort, they may also conduct imaging tests to help them determine a diagnosis.
Diagnostic tests that your back and neck specialist may request include:
X-rays can detect spine defects, tumors, fractured bones, and more. An X-ray is a form of electromagnetic radiation that takes images of the bones in your body. While X-rays don’t show as much detail as other tests, they are usually the first test your doctor will request.
Computed Tomography (CT) scan
A CT scan combines a series of X-ray images taken from different angles around your body and uses computer processing to create cross-sectional images (slices) of the bones, blood vessels, and soft tissues inside your body. CT scan images provide more detailed information than plain X-rays do.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan
MRI uses magnetic fields and radio waves to create an image. This diagnostic test shows the soft tissue and discs in your back, along with the spine and nerves. Highly detailed, an MRI is a radiation-free test that may be used instead of X-rays. Unlike other tests, spine MRI images may
also detect inflammation where you are experiencing back pain.
A myelogram, or myelography, is a diagnostic imaging test generally done by a radiologist. It uses a contrast dye combined with X-rays or computed tomography (CT) to look for problems in the spinal canal, including those that affect the spinal cord, nerve roots, and other tissues.
Note: Your spine specialist may recommend additional tests and procedures to rule out other conditions, including a bone density scan, nerve conduction study, blood tests, or spinal tap.
What Are Nonsurgical Treatments for Spinal Deformities?
Once diagnosed with one of the above spinal curvature deformities, your spine specialist will recommend that you take certain lifestyle precautions like eating a healthy diet, losing weight, not smoking, and getting movement every day, if possible.
In addition to healthier lifestyle choices, a nonsurgical management approach for spinal deformities may include:
Physical Therapy (PT)
A licensed physical therapist can help relieve pain from your spine and get you back into a routine. Depending on your condition, PT treatments may include those that focus on improving motion in the joints from the spine to your arms and legs. Aquatic therapy and occupational therapy are two popular subcategories of PT.
Depending on your condition, pain management may include anything from over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers to prescription pain medications, steroid shots, or an epidural. If your OTC pain medication is not providing you with enough relief, or you have been experiencing pain for more than a few weeks, it is important to talk to your doctor.
Epidural Steroid Injections
Epidural steroid injections effectively reduce the pain and inflammation near the spinal nerves. These injections are commonly used to treat back pain that runs from the lower back into the legs. The resulting pain relief usually lasts for about three months, which may give you enough time to recover, depending on your condition.
You may also want to try integrative treatments like acupuncture or massage therapy. Acupuncture helps increase blood flow to speed up the healing process, which massage therapy works by increasing blood flow, relaxing muscles, and relieving stress. As a precaution, be sure to talk to your doctor first before trying one of these integrative, nonsurgical approaches.
When Is Spinal Surgery Necessary?
There may be times when spinal surgery becomes the best option for someone with a spinal deformity so they can get back to doing what they love. On the other hand, learning that you may need spine surgery can bring on a wide range of emotions.
Your spine surgeon will discuss with you why a surgical procedure is the best treatment for your specific spine condition, along with what to expect during your recovery. After surgery, your back will be stiff and sore, and there will be “dos” and “don’ts” that you will need to follow. Enlisting the support of your friends and family will help make the recovery process go more smoothly.
Your Dedicated Spine Care Team in Chicago
At The Spine Center, we’re dedicated to providing you with high-quality, personalized back and neck care. We strive to offer efficient and professional services to our patients, delivered with integrity and honesty in a cohesive, family-like environment. We have a solid commitment to excellence in diagnosing and treating spinal injuries and conditions spanning all age groups.
As fellowship-trained physicians with over 50 years of experience treating spinal conditions, we offer patient recommendations for treatment, including conservative care, non-operative treatment, and sophisticated, customized surgical solutions. Our physicians serve as innovators in technology, actively participate in national and international research studies, and are at the forefront of medical knowledge. If you or a loved one suffer from back or neck pain, call The Spine Center today at (847) 628-8147 to schedule a consultation.