What is Scoliosis?: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

Our back is under constant stress and strain throughout the day. It is designed to bear any degree of force, with the alignment of the vertebral bones being such that this causes minimal damage to the spinal cord and other structures. However, on some occasions, individuals may have an abnormally curved spine. Scoliosis is one such condition and here we shall talk about this in a bit more detail.

What is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a clinical condition characterised by abnormal sideward curvature of the vertebral column. It may be mild or severe; in the former case it is not clearly evident but in the latter it may be quite a prominent defect.

Scoliosis can not only affect a patient’s ability to perform day to day tasks but can also affect their confidence and state of mind. It therefore comes as no surprise that more and more people are seeking treatment for this condition these days.

Causes of Scoliosis

Most cases of scoliosis have no clearly discernible cause. In other words, the cause is unknown and patients are said to suffer from ‘idiopathic’ scoliosis. Over 80% of cases do not have a known cause.

Having said that, it appears that there is a genetic link in the development of scoliosis, meaning it can run in families. Scoliosis is also seen in certain clinical conditions such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. These are neurological conditions that affect growth of the nerves, muscles and bones, resulting in a plethora of clinical defects that need managing.

Rarely, infants can be borne with scoliosis. This is called congenital scoliosis and is believed to occur due to faulty growth of the foetus in the mother’s womb.

Elderly individuals are also at risk of developing scoliosis. This is because they can suffer from age-related bone thinning - a condition called osteoporosis which makes the vertebral bones susceptible to fractures.

Symptoms and signs

The clinical features of scoliosis are fairly evident on examination of the patient. The spinal column is curved to the side, with one shoulder evidently higher than the opposite. The scapula i.e. the shoulder blade can appear very prominent. In severe cases, the one side of the hip is higher than the other.

Patients can find wearing clothes can be rather difficult as they do not fit properly. Back pain is a rare symptom unless the condition is rapidly getting worse. This is particularly the case when they are sat down or stood for prolonged periods of time.

Very rarely, patients with scoliosis can experience bowel and bladder problems and weakness in the legs.

Scoliosis Treatments approach

As a general approach, patients with scoliosis are managed with physical therapy and exercise.

In children, treatment often involves simple observation of the child. If needed, braces may be offered as will surgery in advanced cases. Surgical options include spinal fusion. A prolonged course of physical therapy is beneficial.

In adults, painkillers may be offered if needed. Exercises may be prescribed by physical therapists to help improve overall mobility and movement. If required, patients may undergo surgical correction though this is reserved for severe cases of scoliosis (due to risks involved).

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