Scoliosis, an abnormal spinal curvature, is a back problem affecting approximately three percent of the American population. The symptoms vary widely, depending on the type of scoliosis and the degree of the spinal curve. The Spine Center provides individualized treatment for our Chicago area patients. In many cases, scoliosis can be managed without surgery. When surgical intervention is indicated, we use advanced, minimally invasive techniques. Request an appointment for consultation and more information on how we can help you.
Who Is At Risk For Scoliosis?
Scoliosis is not common among the general population, but it is strongly influenced by genetic factors. If scoliosis runs in your family, it is advisable to have your spine examined by a specialist. Similarly, parents are encouraged to have their children checked if scoliosis is known to be present on either side of the family.
- Childhood scoliosis is most common, and it usually goes undetected. Children rarely experience painful symptoms unless the spinal curve is straining or compressing organs, joints, or muscles. Parents may notice visible signs, such as uneven shoulders or an inability to stand straight.
- In some cases, scoliosis does not develop until adulthood. Often, it is not actually a new problem, but rather a deterioration of mild, undetected scoliosis that began in childhood. If it continues to progress without treatment, it can cause pain, deformity, limited mobility, and even breathing problems or organ damage.
What Causes Scoliosis?
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia notes that “idiopathic [i.e., spontaneously arising] scoliosis is the most common spinal deformity in the world.” While even the most diligent researchers haven’t been able to point to a definitive cause of scoliosis, most cases of scoliosis occur due to genetic factors as we stated in the previous section. However, genetics isn’t the only reason why a patient may develop the condition.
Certain prenatal spinal deformities can lead to congenital scoliosis. When the spine doesn’t develop evenly, the lopsided result causes something called hemivertebra, a common cause of scoliosis. Developmental difficulties can cause spinal segments to fuse, which leads to so-called block vertebrae. These vertebrae have missing disc spaces and simply fail to continue growing. The canted angles they cause lead to scoliosis.
Sometimes scoliosis results from neuromuscular conditions such as spina bifida, osteochondral dystrophy, neurofibromatosis, trisomy 21, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Marfan’s syndrome, and various other syndromes can also lead to a scoliosis diagnosis. Patients who believe they might have scoliosis should make sure that any potentially health conditions have been identified and addressed.
Finally, degenerating discs can cause the spine to shift, throwing the bones into a configuration that leads to scoliosis. Unlike many other forms of scoliosis, this type happens later in life, usually affects mature adults, and typically appears in the lower back. Comorbidities often include arthritis or degenerative disc disease.
As which happens with many illnesses and disorders, a number of scientifically unsupported anecdotes have cropped up around scoliosis. Rest assured that the condition isn’t caused by carrying a heavy backpack exclusively on one shoulder or by habitually poor posture.
What Are the Symptoms of Scoliosis?
While the physical symptoms of scoliosis are fairly uniform, the experiences of individual patients can differ widely. Scoliosis typically presents with uneven shoulders (a single shoulder blade that seems higher than the other), canted hips, or an asymmetric prominence on one side of the ribs or low back. Patients may not even be aware that they have the disorder — or they may find themselves in extreme discomfort.
Why? The extent of the spine’s deformity will determine how many issues a patient will face. Minor spinal curvature may not result in any symptoms whatsoever. More severe curvature can cause serious discomfort and even symptoms similar to sciatica, particularly if a patient is dealing with degenerative scoliosis. Such sufferers may experience stiffness, trouble walking, or shooting pains.
Scoliosis may also cause issues with internal organs. More severe spinal deformity can put pressure on the heart and lungs. In extreme cases, patients sometimes experience shortness of breath or elevated heart rates.
While most people won’t experience these more troubling symptoms, they may undergo changes in their appearance. Most identifications of scoliosis occur when a third-party notices that a patient has an elevated shoulder, a sideways slant to the waist, a protruding rib cage, or higher hips. The disorder can also cause changes to one’s gait.
When detected early, especially during childhood, scoliosis can usually be managed with nonsurgical techniques such as braces and therapy. However, severe scoliosis may require surgery to correct or prevent deformity, severe pain, and other effects. Spinal fusion is commonly used in scoliosis treatment, because it stabilizes the back, provides support, and protects nerves from compression.
If you think you may have scoliosis, or if you have been diagnosed and you are seeking minimally invasive treatments, contact The Spine Center at (847) 628-8147 for a consultation.