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Understanding a Scoliosis Diagnosis
Understanding a Scoliosis Diagnosis

Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine curves in an abnormal, sideways position.  The curvature may resemble a C shape, which is a single curve, or an S shape, which is a double curve.  The S shape scoliosis would be one curve in the upper back and one curve in the lower back.  Scoliosis is usually diagnosed during childhood, often just before puberty.  Many children have a mild case that may need no treatment.  The physician may just decide to monitor the patient to make sure the curvature doesn’t worsen.  Other cases of scoliosis are severe enough to require treatment.

Typical symptoms of scoliosis

Several indications of scoliosis are easily observed.  The shoulders will appear uneven.  One hip may look higher than the other one.  The shoulder blade or ribs are more prominent on one side of the body.  The spine may appear to be rotated or twisted.  The patient may complain of back pain.

How is scoliosis diagnosed?

The physician will perform a physical exam, looking for symmetry in the shoulders and waist.  The child will bend forward so the doctor can observe any curvature of the spine.  X-rays will usually confirm a diagnosis of scoliosis.  Occasionally, an MRI or CT scan will also be done.

Who is at risk for scoliosis?

In most cases of scoliosis, there is no determined cause.  In a small percentage of patients, there may be a deformity of the spine that was evident at birth.  Some cases of scoliosis are the result of a nerve abnormality affecting the muscles around the spine.  Muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy may also cause scoliosis.  While scoliosis affects both girls and boys, the girls seem to have a higher risk of progression.

What treatments are available?

In determining treatment for scoliosis, physicians need to consider the severity, the location, and the type of spinal curvature.  The age of the child and whether the bones are still growing are also important factors.  As mentioned previously, mild cases of scoliosis are often just monitored with minimal intervention.  If the child’s bones are still growing, a brace may be worn to prevent further curvature from occurring.  The brace would generally be worn day and night under clothing.  It could be taken off for short periods of time when the child participates in sports activities.  A brace is worn until the bones have stopped growing.

Severe cases of scoliosis may require surgery.  A spinal fusion will be done to hold the vertebrae together.  Metal rods, screws, or wires may be necessary until the bones have fused.  An adjustable rod that can be lengthened as the child grows may also be used.

Adults with scoliosis

Adults may also have scoliosis.  In some cases, their childhood scoliosis was never treated.  Other adults develop adult degenerative scoliosis as they age.  Parts of the spine can degenerate over time causing a curvature.  This can result in back pain, an irregular gait, a humpback appearance, and instability of the spine.  Surgery to treat adult degenerative scoliosis is usually not necessary.  Other treatments may be used including exercises to improve posture and strength, soft tissue therapies, and medication for pain.  However, in severe cases, a spinal fusion may be the best option for the patient.

The specialists at Atlanta Brain and Spine Care have considerable experience treating scoliosis in children and adults.  Contact us at (404)350-0106 to schedule an appointment. 

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