What Is Scoliosis And How Does It Affect Teenagers?

Scoliosis is a condition that causes the spinal column to curve into an s-shape. Typically, the spine is straight and bends during movements like stretching or bending. With scoliosis, the spine is constantly curved. Large curves can be very problematic and lead to arthritis, pelvic pain, and lung issues. Scoliosis in children under 18 is called adolescent scoliosis.

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Are there different types of adolescent scoliosis?

One of the more common types of scoliosis is adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. Scientists are not sure what causes this condition but notice the disease in children with a family history of scoliosis. Often, adolescent idiopathic scoliosis does not cause severe curving of the spine. Lower back pain is the biggest issue with this condition. Similarly, juvenile idiopathic scoliosis occurs in children between the ages of 3 and 9, and infantile scoliosis affects children under 3. All of these conditions can become severe if left untreated. Early detection is the best way to treat and fix idiopathic scoliosis in children.

How severe is adolescent scoliosis?

The severity of adolescent scoliosis depends on the degree of the curve. Doctors classify curves from mild to severe. Anything less than 20 degrees is considered a mild curve, moderate curves fall in the 25 and 40-degree range while severe curves are greater than 50 degrees.

What are some risk factors for developing scoliosis?

  1. Being female
    Females are more likely than males to develop scoliosis.  Taller females are also at greater risk of developing scoliosis. Some researchers believe this issue has to do with the hormone leptin. Leptin regulates food intake and the body’s energy levels. Low leptin levels have been associated with decreased bone mass which can lead to scoliosis development.
  2. Genetic syndrome and developmental delay
    Patients with genetic disorders or chromosomal abnormalities are more likely to develop scoliosis. These disorders include Down syndrome. Essentially, developmental delays which cause issues with the natural development process of a child can lead to scoliosis.
  3. Prematurity
    Patients born prematurely are at higher risk of developing scoliosis. The spine forms at the same time as other organs, so babies born prematurely may have an underdeveloped spine.

What are the signs of scoliosis?

Once children reach adolescence, some of the signs of idiopathic scoliosis become more pronounced. Doctors can identify these issues during a medical exam. These issues include:

  • Uneven shoulder blades
  • One hip lower or higher than the other
  • Ribs protruding on one side of the body
  • One-shoulder blade higher than the other one

One or more of these issues could be a sign that the child has scoliosis. Typically, doctors perform imaging tests like x-rays to confirm the diagnosis. Once diagnosed, doctors will look for treatment options.

Decreasing back pain

For less severe scoliosis issues, doctors won’t recommend any corrective surgery. The hope is that the child outgrows the condition. For more severe cases, doctors can suggest bracing. The brace is customized to the body and worn under clothes. The brace prevents increased curvature of the spine and keeps the spine in a straight position. Doctors also use other methods like physical therapy, exercise, and surgery. Surgery consists of metal implants inserted near the spine to correct alignment. During this procedure, called a spinal fusion, doctors line the spine with bone grafts that fuse with the spine to correct the curvature. The metal rods keep the grafts in place.

Should I talk to a doctor?

Scoliosis in children and teens is a serious issue that requires medical attention. Parents that believe a child may have scoliosis should consult a healthcare professional immediately. Doctors can conduct the proper examination and recommend specialists like orthopedic surgeons to correct the condition.

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