Doctor consulting with patient Back problems Physical therapy concept

How many times did your parents remind you to sit up straight or stand tall when you were young? While it might have felt annoying and unnecessary, parents around the world put in that effort to encourage their children toward better posture. Good posture may seem like a small thing, but it can play a major role in better spinal health. As you know if you keep up with our blog, spinal health can be the root cause of back pain, but it also plays a key role in many of the body’s systems — everything from lung function to circulation and digestion can be impacted by poor spinal health.

When parents caution their children to stand up straight, there’s one pervasive worry that comes to mind in terms of childhood spinal health specifically: scoliosis. But scoliosis isn’t just a concern for children. Here’s what you need to know about this spinal disorder.

What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a spinal disorder in which the spine curves sideways. Every spine naturally curves, but that’s a curve that undulates gently toward the front and back of your body. Scoliosis is the opposite; it’s when the spine curves toward the left or right side of the body. It’s often referred to as a “C curve” or “S curve” to the side. Cases of scoliosis can range from mild to severe, and can grow more severe if left uncared for.

What causes scoliosis?

There are a few different causes for scoliosis. The most common cause is actually unknown; scoliosis can develop during the growth spurt that happens just before puberty. Some people are more genetically predisposed toward scoliosis at this point, but it’s largely an idiopathic condition — the reason scoliosis develops during this part of life is unknown.

Less common causes of scoliosis include conditions like muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy, birth defects, tumors, genetic conditions like Marfan syndrome and Down syndrome, and some infections.

What are the symptoms?

The biggest warnings of scoliosis are, thankfully, detectable with the human eye. When standing straight with feet evenly spaced and arms relaxed at the side of the body, scoliosis can look like:

  • Uneven shoulders
  • Uneven/offset waist
  • One hip higher than the other
  • One shoulder blade protruding more than the other
  • Ribs protruding more on one side than the other

Fortunately, scoliosis doesn’t often cause back pain or other physical sensations until it has reached the point of “severe” scoliosis — at which point it will almost certainly be visibly noticeable. However, this does mean that it’s harder to detect scoliosis through sensations within the body while it’s a mild case.

The most beneficial thing to do — especially for those with a family history of scoliosis and children preparing to go through puberty — is to schedule regular screenings with a chiropractor or other back pain specialist. Those with conditions mentioned above should discuss all spinal health concerns with their medical professionals.

How is scoliosis diagnosed?

The most common way to diagnose scoliosis is a short physical exam. Usually, the chiropractor or doctor will have the patient bend forward at the waist and let their arms hang loose. The doctor will look for any sideways curvature of the spine and look to see if the ribs protrude more on one side than the other. They may also check for muscle weakness, abnormal reflexes, and numbness that could be secondary indicators.

If a curvature is detected, the doctor will likely order X-rays to get a clearer picture of the spine. If an underlying condition like a tumor is the suspected cause, the doctor may order an MRI.

How is scoliosis treated?

Treatment for scoliosis will depend on a few different factors, including: severity, age, gender, location of the curve, curve pattern, and the underlying cause (if there is one). Since the majority of scoliosis cases are in pubescent children, a brace can be worn to stop the progression of the curve. However, that’s only an option if the bones are still growing. Also, it’s important to note that a brace isn’t intended to reverse the curve, only to prevent it from growing. Wearing a brace can help lessen the curve, but it doesn’t always.

Outside of wearing a brace, chiropractic is a great natural option to treat scoliosis. This is an option available regardless of age, gender, curve severity, and so on. Chiropractic adjustments, spinal decompression, and other modalities can be used to relieve back pain and help improve the spine’s overall health.

Another option, depending on the severity of the curve, is surgery. Most often, a spinal fusion is performed and metal rods, screws, and/or wires are used to hold the spine straight. If a metal rod is used, it may be lengthened every six months to help the spine straighten. Complications can include infection, bleeding, pain, and nerve damage. Since surgery is a more drastic option, it’s better to start with chiropractic care. If additional measures are needed, your chiropractor can advise you.

Can scoliosis be prevented?

There’s a common misconception that, because scoliosis is most prevalent in middle- and high-school aged children, it is caused by heavy backpacks and carrying stacks of textbooks around. The good news is that neither of these are known to cause scoliosis — though those heavy loads can still cause other spine and joint alignment issues.

Scoliosis cannot be prevented. However, catching it as early as possible is better for ongoing spinal health, as it can be treated and the progression slowed or stopped. If you have concerns about scoliosis or any other spine or back issues, start with a visit to your local back pain specialist: a chiropractor. Chiropractors can help with a wide range of neck, shoulder, and back pain naturally. In addition, your chiropractor will start with a thorough assessment to understand what’s happening with your spine.

Getting Help For Scoliosis

There’s no need to dive straight to concerns about surgery. Start with a consultation with your local chiropractor to get an idea of what’s going. From there, options like physical therapy, wearing a brace, and regular chiropractic adjustments may help. Connect with Senara Health and Healing Center & Spa in Peoria to schedule your consultation today.