Treatments & Procedures

Diagnosis and Treatment of Scoliosis

Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine. Instead of the spine being straight, the spine has an "S" or "C" shape. Scoliosis usually develops during the growth spurt that occurs just before puberty but can affect people of any age.

The severity of scoliosis is measured in degrees, with a curve of 10 to 25 degrees classified as mild, 25 to 40 degrees as moderate, and 40 degrees or more as severe.

Mild scoliosis often does not require treatment. However, moderate to severe scoliosis can cause pain, deformity, and other complications if not treated.

Click here to learn more about scoliosis, the different types of the condition, its symptoms, causes and more.

How is Scoliosis Diagnosed?

Scoliosis is diagnosed through a combination of physical examination, medical history review, and imaging tests. The diagnostic process usually involves the following stages:

1. Medical history and physical examination: The doctor will begin by gathering information about the patient's medical history, including any family history of scoliosis or other relevant conditions. They will also conduct a thorough physical examination, which may involve observing the patient's posture, assessing the symmetry of the shoulders, hips, and waistline, and evaluating the range of motion of the spine.

2. Adam's forward bend test: During the physical examination, the doctor may ask the patient to bend forward at the waist while they observe the spine from different angles. This test helps to identify any asymmetry or abnormal curvature of the spine.

3. Imaging tests: If scoliosis is suspected based on the physical examination, the doctor may recommend further imaging tests to confirm the diagnosis and assess the severity of the curvature. The most common imaging tests used for scoliosis diagnosis include:

o X-rays: These provide detailed images of the spine and allow the doctor to measure the degree and pattern of the curvature.

o CT scan: Another type of imaging test that can provide detailed images of your spine. This can be helpful if the doctor needs to see more about the structure of your spine or to rule out other conditions.

o MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan: In certain cases, an MRI may be used to assess the spinal cord and nerves, especially if there are signs of an underlying cause such as a tumor or spinal cord abnormality.

How is Scoliosis Treated?

The goal of treatment for scoliosis is to prevent the curve from getting worse and to improve the patient's quality of life. With early diagnosis and treatment, most people with scoliosis can live a normal and active life.

The treatment for scoliosis depends on various factors which will be considered when choosing a treatment for scoliosis. These factors include:

  • Severity of the curve: The severity of the curve will determine whether bracing, physical therapy, or surgery is the best treatment option.
  • Age of the patient: Bracing is most effective in children who are still growing. Surgery is usually only recommended for adults with severe scoliosis.
  • Patient's preference: The patient's preference will also be taken into account when choosing a treatment option. Some patients may prefer bracing, while others may prefer physical therapy or surgery.

Treatment options can range from observation and monitoring to bracing or surgical intervention. Here are some common approaches to treating scoliosis:

  1. Observation: If the curvature is mild (less than 25 degrees) and the individual is still growing, the doctor may recommend regular monitoring through check-ups and periodic X-rays to assess any progression. This approach is often used when the curvature is unlikely to worsen significantly.
  2. Bracing: Bracing may be recommended for moderate scoliosis (25 to 40 degrees) in children and adolescents who are still growing. The brace is custom-made and worn to prevent further progression of the curve. The specific type of brace and the duration of wear will depend on individual factors and the treating physician's recommendation.
  3. Physical therapy and exercises: Physical therapy can help improve muscle strength, flexibility, and posture. Specific exercises and stretches are designed to target the muscles surrounding the spine, which can help manage pain and maintain a balanced posture.
  4. Surgery: In severe cases of scoliosis (curve greater than 40 degrees) or when the curvature continues to progress despite other interventions, surgery may be recommended. The most common surgical procedure for scoliosis is spinal fusion, where the vertebrae are fused together using bone grafts, rods, screws, or hooks. This helps straighten the spine and prevents further curvature progression.

It's important to note that the treatment approach is individualized as each case of scoliosis is unique. Decisions regarding treatment are made by healthcare professionals specializing in scoliosis. Regular follow-up visits are typically recommended to monitor the progression of scoliosis and adjust the treatment plan if necessary.

Can Scoliosis be Prevented?

At present, there are no known methods to prevent the development of idiopathic scoliosis, which is the most common type. Idiopathic scoliosis typically arises during growth spurts in childhood or adolescence, and the underlying cause is still unknown.

However, there are a few measures that can help with early detection and timely management of scoliosis, potentially minimizing its progression and impact:

  • Regular check-ups: Routine screenings and physical examinations, particularly during growth phases, can aid in the early detection of scoliosis. Healthcare professionals, such as pediatricians, may perform simple tests to assess spinal alignment and refer individuals for further evaluation if needed.
  • Spinal health awareness: Educating individuals, parents, and caregivers about the signs and symptoms of scoliosis can promote early recognition. Increased awareness can lead to timely medical intervention, enhancing the chances of successful treatment.
  • Posture and body mechanics: Encouraging good posture and promoting proper body mechanics during activities such as sitting, standing, and lifting can help support optimal spinal alignment. While this may not prevent scoliosis itself, it can contribute to overall spinal health and minimize the risk of additional strain on the spine.
  • Early intervention: If scoliosis is detected, appropriate management strategies can be initiated promptly. This may involve observation, bracing, physical therapy, or other interventions, depending on the severity and progression of the curvature.

While prevention of idiopathic scoliosis is not currently possible, early detection and proactive management can significantly impact treatment outcomes. 

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