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Scoliosis is marked by a sideways curvature of the spine. While the condition can affect people of all ages, scoliosis is most often diagnosed in the first seven years of a child’s life. While most cases of scoliosis are mild, the deformity can get worse if left untreated.
As there’s no pain associated with scoliosis in the beginning stages of the condition, it can often progress without detection. If left untreated, however, symptoms can include stiffness of the spine, fatigue due to muscle strain, back pain from pressure on the spinal cord or chest pain from pressure on the rib cage from the spine, sciatica, or difficulty standing or walking. Visible signs of scoliosis can include uneven shoulders, with one shoulder blade sticking out, posture problems, physical abnormalities like an off-center head or hips sitting at an angle, or a noticeable humpback.
Many cases of scoliosis have no identifiable cause. When causes can be identified, they can include:
– Birth defects
– Neurological abnormalities
– Genetic conditions
In many cases of adolescents with scoliosis, the spinal curve is mild enough to not warrant treatment. However, if the doctor is worried that the curve may be increasing, they may be observed every few months throughout adolescence. Braces are an effective treatment for patients who have not yet reached skeletal maturity. If a child is still growing, a brace may be recommended to prevent the curve from progressing.
Surgery can be done for children and adults with scoliosis. In children, the two goals of spine surgery are to stop the curve from progressing into adulthood and to diminish spinal deformity. Surgery is usually only recommended for children when the spinal curve is greater than 40 degrees and there are signs of progression. For adults, surgery may be recommended if the spinal curve is greater than 50 degrees and the patient has nerve damage to their legs and/or is experiencing bowel or bladder symptoms.