Hi, I’m Stacie!I was diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis at a young age and started wearing a scoliosis brace at age 9. Unfortunately, my curve continued to progress, and I had fusion surgery when I was 12 years old in 1997. Over 20 years later, I have daily aches and pains, but I have learned to live with my scoliosis, and I hope you have too!
Scoliosis perspective, insight, encouragement. Back braces. Spinal fusion surgery 1997. Physical therapy and rehabilitation. Aches and pains… you are not alone!
Definition: Scoliosis is an abnormal, lateral curvature of the spine, resulting in a C or S-shaped curve. This condition commonly occurs in adolescence, and is diagnosed most often between the ages of 10-15. Both boys and girls can develop scoliosis, but girls are 5-10 times more likely to have curve progression requiring treatment.¹ Although most cases are mild, the curve may progress as the patient grows. Hence, the importance of continued monitoring with radiographs and physician visits.
Image attribution: Blausen.com staff (2014). “Medical gallery of Blausen Medical 2014“. WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 2002-4436./ CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)
Cause: Most cases are idiopathic, meaning that there is no known cause (etiology) for scoliosis in the patient. Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) affects approximately 1-3% of adolescents in the US.² However, some cases appear to have a hereditary factor as they tend to occur in families. Other conditions, such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, congenital birth defects affecting the vertebrae, injuries, or infections of the vertebral column may also cause scoliosis.
Signs and symptoms: Look for uneven shoulders and/or hips, prominence in one shoulder blade, decreased range of motion, or twisting of the rib cage, causing a “rib hump” on one side. Back pain may or may not be a symptom in adolescent scoliosis.
Diagnosis: Your physician will obtain a complete medical history and perform a thorough physical examination. Imaging includes radiographs to confirm scoliosis and to reveal the extent of the condition. Regular visits thereafter may be needed for monitoring and evaluation while the child is still growing.
Treatment: Options include conservative treatment with observation or bracing, and surgical correction in more severe cases. In mild cases, scoliosis is regularly monitored as the patient grows. If the curve worsens, bracing is the next step to prevent progression. Bracing is only effective before skeletal maturity is reached. If scoliosis continues to progress beyond a 45° Cobb angle measurement, referral to an orthopedic surgeon for spinal fusion surgery may be indicated to correct and prevent further worsening of the curve. Newer surgical techniques preserve flexibility and growth. Physical therapy may also be helpful for some patients.
Complications: Severe cases of scoliosis can be disabling; in fact, heart and lung function may be compromised if the curve is severe enough. Adults who had scoliosis as a child may be more prone to back pain than those without the condition. Worsening scoliosis can alter one’s appearance, causing uneven shoulders, hips, and leg length as well as a prominent rib hump on one side.
Image attribution: Laboratoires Servier / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
- Horne JP, Flannery R, Usman S. Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis: diagnosis and management. Am Fam Physician. 2014;89(3):193‐198.
- Kuznia AL, Hernandez AK, Lee LU. Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis: Common Questions and Answers. Am Fam Physician. 2020;101(1):19‐23.