What Is Scoliosis? An Introduction to a Confusing Condition

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If you ask the average person, “What is scoliosis?” they may recall a fuzzy memory of the school nurse visiting their health or gym class. The nurse would ask each student to remove or lift their shirt and bend forward for an examination of the back.

For most people, this scoliosis screening — known as the Adams forward bend test — represents the entirety of their familiarity with the condition. Perhaps they understand, on a basic level, that scoliosis has something to do with the curvature of the spine. But it remains largely mysterious and misunderstood, even among those with friends or family members who must cope with the condition.

Have you been diagnosed with scoliosis recently? Or has someone close to you received a scoliosis diagnosis? If so, you are probably wading through quite a bit of information and advice, unsure of what it all means.

What are the next steps?

What are the most effective treatment options?

Can a person live a normal, active life with scoliosis?

Scoliosis Demystified

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One of my goals as a leading expert on scoliosis is to demystify the condition so you and others like you can move forward confidently. The truth is that a scoliosis diagnosis doesn’t have to relegate you to a life of limitations. People are living rich, full lives with scoliosis, and a number of innovative, non invasive treatment options have revolutionized the way health care professionals help their scoliosis patients.

I think it’s important to understand the possibilities for positive, transformational outcomes after a scoliosis diagnosis. But first, I want to focus on the big, important question at hand:

What is scoliosis?

The Facts About Scoliosis

Essentially, scoliosis is defined as a sideways curvature of the spine. I like to describe it as a “3-D” condition, which means that it must be considered in a manner that goes beyond the story that a traditional, two-dimensional X-ray would tell. This is critically important because when the condition is treated in a strictly 2-D manner, it can actually lead to setbacks and further complications. The spine does not simply bend forward or backward, left or right; it bends and curves in multiple directions.

Cases range from mild (up to a 25-degree curve) to severe (a curve of 40 degrees or more), and are progressive, which means that if scoliosis is left untreated, the degree of severity worsens over time.

The causes of scoliosis are, unfortunately, not very well understood. Experts have identified some causes, such as:

  • Cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy (neuromuscular scoliosis)
  • Accidents (traumatic scoliosis)
  • A defect in the spine such as hemivertebra (congenital scoliosis)
  • A result of spinal degeneration (degenerative scoliosis)

However, the majority of scoliosis cases are idiopathic — basically, there is no singular, known cause. Rather, scoliosis is caused by a host of factors that contribute to its development and progression.

Scoliosis is also probably more common than you think, as well. Consider these facts:

  • Estimates indicate that there are more than four-million scoliosis cases in the United States alone (National Scoliosis Foundation)
  • Among school-age children, scoliosis is the most common spinal deformity (Chiro & Osteo. 2005)
  • Children with scoliosis make more than 440,000 doctor office visits, 133,300 hospital visits and over 17,000 emergency-room visits each year (HCUP-AHRQ 2011)
  • Nearly 230,000 adults were hospitalized with scoliosis in 2011 alone. The cost for these hospitalizations was approximately $15.44 million. (BAJB 2011)
  • Scoliosis accounts for 20% of all cases of spinal deformity in the United States (BAJB 2011)

These numbers are even more surprising when you consider that they only describe the number of diagnosed scoliosis cases. If you account for those who have scoliosis, but have not been diagnosed, the rates are much higher.

Scoliosis affects people from all sectors of the socioeconomic spectrum, and it may be diagnosed at any age. That being said, the most common age of diagnosis is between 10 and 18, which happens to be the most crucial time for treatment. That’s because it’s also the age when progression of the condition tends to happen, due to the fact that adolescent bodies grow rapidly in this transitional period.

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Typical Treatments for Scoliosis

The traditional approach to scoliosis treatment has been well established. Typically, patients receive a diagnosis, followed by observation and a fitting for a prefabricated brace, with the so-called Boston Brace being the most common. Bracing is done to hold the spine in a straighter alignment, with the goal of preventing the curve from worsening. Sometimes a physical therapy regimen is also prescribed to address pain or imbalances, but this is extremely rare under the traditional treatment model. Additionally, patients often seek chiropractic care on their own (they are seldom referred to chiropractors by traditional scoliosis treatment experts). This may or may not provide relief, depending upon the chiropractor’s approach. Ultimately, the traditional approach to scoliosis treatment leads patients down the path to surgery if the curvature continues to progress.

Surgery for scoliosis is performed to stop the progression of the condition through spinal fusion. Outcomes are considered successful when the progression of the the condition has ceased. Unfortunately, surgical success doesn’t always lead to a healthy body.

Traditional treatments for scoliosis are, in fact, limited in many ways. These methods can be effective, but they tend to focus more on treating a condition than helping a person become more active and functional. What’s more, surgery can be prohibitively expensive, and once it has been performed, can leave patients with far fewer options than before.

The Functional Approach to Scoliosis Treatment

When I meet patients, I see confusion and frustration on their faces before they even utter a single word. They come to me because they’ve tried the traditional approaches to treating scoliosis, or they are determined to avoid expensive, risky surgeries. People come to me afraid that they will have to make major changes to their lifestyles. They are so caught up in the language of limitation that they fail to see what’s possible.

When I was a teenager, my lifestyle was severely limited by excruciating migraines. I was unable to participate in the sports and activities I loved, and I felt resigned to a life of managing and coping instead of achieving my goals. Thankfully, I was able to receive the type of treatment that allowed me to function and live my life to its fullest potential.

My point is that I have been in the same boat so many of my current patients find themselves in, and I understand the frustration and confusion. I challenged the notion that care and treatment should be limiting and focused on simply managing a condition. I knew that it must be possible to treat scoliosis with an approach designed to make life richer and more fulfilling.

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My approach to scoliosis treatment focuses on function and the idea that the condition should not stand in the way of one’s ambitions and goals. I believe treatment should be patient centered, which means that people come first. Always. My approach aims to increase mobility and balance, and it engages patients in a way that gets them excited about participating in the process of improving. Most importantly, the functional approach I believe in works — 98% of my patients experience noticeable relief after just two weeks!

What Is Scoliosis? Contact the Scoliosis Reduction Center to Learn More!

Here at the Scoliosis Reduction Center, our mission is to help people understand the nature of the condition in a way that empowers them to take action. Our team members are not only experts, but every one of them has scoliosis and can speak with authority and experience about the condition. We are here to clear confusion and provide a path forward for those who may have thought they had reached a dead end.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with scoliosis and you’re interested in our functional, patient-centered approach to treatment, I encourage you to call our office today at 321-939-2328 to learn more!