Scoliosis is a disease characterized by an abnormal curvature to the spine, in which the vertebrae twist like a bent corkscrew. In less severe cases, scoliosis may cause the bones to twist slightly, making the hips or ribs appear uneven. When this occurs, the problem is more cosmetic and less of a health risk.
Scoliosis does present a health risk if bones are so severely twisted that they compress vital organs, or if the spinal deformity is so severe that spine health and posture is threatened. If this happens, surgery may be necessary. If left untreated, severe cases of scoliosis can shorten a person's life span.
The exact cause of scoliosis is unknown. Only 1-4 percent of the population
has this condition. It is more common in women than men and most often
affects adolescents between the ages of 10 and 18. A child's likelihood
to develop scoliosis is much higher if their parent or a sibling has it.
Scoliosis can also develop over time in mid- to late childhood, usually
before puberty. In other cases, the disease is congenital, meaning a person
is born with a vertebral abnormality that causes it.
Sometimes, the symptoms of scoliosis are visible. For instance, the child may have uneven shoulders, chest, hips, shoulder blades, waist, or a child may have a tendency to lean to one side. In other cases, there are no visible symptoms. To diagnose a child with scoliosis, have them touch their toes. If either one or both shoulder blades are prominent, the waist is shifted or ribs are uneven, scoliosis may be present. For a child or teenager, your pediatrician often screens for scoliosis. There are school screening programs as well.
Outlined below are some of the diagnostic tools that your physician may use to gain insight into your condition and determine the best treatment plan for your condition.
There are roughly three tiers of treatment for adolescent scoliosis. General scoliosis treatment options include observation, bracing, and if the curve is large and progressive, surgery. Patients with pain and function issues can be treated with therapy, as well as physiatry (physical medicine and rehabilitation physician-supervised programs). Sometimes, shoe inserts (orthotics) are prescribed for those whose legs are uneven.
For adults, the emphasis is on function and movement. Bracing is used only as a temporary pain relief measure; it cannot correct the curve in an adult. Treatment focuses on medications and physical therapy. If other problems exist that are caused by the scoliosis (sacroiliac dysfunction, flatback, spinal stenosis, nerve root pinching), there are many non-operative treatments for each of these issues.
Surgery may be required in order to correct the spinal curve. Surgery is usually only recommended for large, progressive curves or in those patients who have nerve pain that steadily worsens. These surgeries can be extremely complicated, and a person should invest a great deal of time in selecting a spine surgeon who subspecializes in using the most current (fourth generation) corrective techniques. As with any spine surgery, finding a doctor with experience in this specific type of surgery is key.
As with any disease, the sooner the problem is discovered, the more treatment options there are available to arrest the progress of the condition.
Depending on the cause of the scoliosis, a variety of treatment options are now available at the Los Angeles Spine Center offices of Dr. John Regan, including:
An endoscope is a small instrument which permits peering into the body through a small opening, minimizing the size of skin and muscle incisions. Endoscopic thoracic release involves the removal of discs, the separation of ligaments, and in some cases the removal of a portion of several ribs to facilitate correction of a deformed spinal column.
The thoracoscopic release technique involves general anesthesia with the patient lying on the side. The endoscope and other specialized instruments are introduced through skin incisions approximately 1 inch long in the side of the chest. The lung in the surgical area is deflated. A camera attachment on the endoscope allows the doctor to see the chest cavity and spinal column on a TV monitor.
The discs, ligaments and rib segments are resected to gain motion across the deformed spine. Once this has been achieved, the lung is reinflated, the small skin incisions are closed and the procedure is completed.
Traditional open spine surgery for scoliosis leaves a large scar. Endoscopes, fiberoptic video cameras, and other specially designed surgical tools have made it possible for surgery to be performed through small holes instead of large incisions. Endoscopic surgery has potentially less blood loss and scarring, reduced disruption to the rib cage and other surrounding areas, less post-operative pain, and faster rehabilitation and recovery.
Endoscopic correction is not possible with all types of scoliosis, but single right thoracic curve is ideal for this method.
Fusion is a surgically created solid bone bridge between two or more adjacent (usually freely mobile) bones. In the spine, this procedure is used to create a stability between vertebrae. In order to achieve a fusion, bone must grow across the desired area in a gradual and solid fashion. A number of techniques can increase the chance of this to occur. The basic principle is to place bone tissue (bone graft) into the area of desired fusion, ensure sufficient immobility across that area (brace, cast, spinal instrumentation) and then wait for the fusion to take place (6-9 months or more).
To straighten the spine in scoliosis patients, Dr. Regan may attach hooks to the vertebral bodies. Then two titanium rods are inserted to either side of the spine. A piece of bone from the patient's hip (a bone graft) is applied to portions of the spine to assist fusion by growing into the spaces between the vertebrae and acting like a cement to hold them straight. This is called a "spinal fusion." Until these bones heal together, they need to be supported and kept from curving again. The rods accomplish this purpose by holding the spine straight until the bones are fused together.
Many types of instrumentation (rods) are now available at Dr. Regan's Los Angeles spine center offices in Santa Monica and Beverly Hills.
Good spinal care includes good nutrition, especially during the growth years, but continuing as an adult. Calcium intake needs to be maintained throughout adulthood. Sensible exercise programs that maintain the strength of leg and back muscles helps reduce injury and deformity. Good posture is vitally important to maintain the supporting structures. Early treatment and intervention of beginning scoliosis through the use of physical therapy, chiropractic and exercise can reduce the degree of curvature.
Your doctor will take X-rays of your spine which will reveal whether or not scoliosis is present as well as how severe it may be.
Scoliosis can be life-threatening when bones are so severely twisted that they compress vital organs. Surgery is most likely the best option in such cases. If left untreated, severe cases of scoliosis can shorten a person's life span.
There are some nonsurgical ways to treat scoliosis such as physical therapy, exercise, bracing, shoe inserts and medication. However, only a spine surgeon can determine if any of these options might apply to you.
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