While scoliosis is progressive, if treated effectively, progression can be managed so adolescents can thrive, despite having an unnaturally-curved spine. When it comes to teenagers, they are at risk for rapid-phase progression; continue reading to find out why.
Although scoliosis can affect all ages, it’s most commonly diagnosed in teenagers. In fact, the most prevalent condition type is adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, diagnosed between the ages of 10 and 18. With early detection and proactive conservative treatment, scoliosis is highly treatable.
Before exploring the teenage experience of scoliosis, let’s first define the condition itself, along with the parameters that have to be met to reach a diagnosis of scoliosis.
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There are a number of spinal conditions that involve a loss of its healthy curves, but in order to be diagnosed as scoliosis, some specific variables have to be in place.
Scoliosis is the development of an unnatural sideways spinal curve that also rotates, making it a complex 3-dimensional condition.
In order for an unnatural spinal curve to be considered a true scoliotic curve, it has to have a rotational component, meaning the spine bends and twists unnaturally.
In addition, the size of the curve matters, and to be diagnosed as scoliosis, the curve has to have a minimum Cobb angle of 10 degrees.
A patient’s Cobb angle is measured during X-ray by drawing lines from the tops and bottoms of the curve’s most-tilted vertebrae; the intersecting lines form an angle that’s expressed in degrees.
Cobb angle also classifies conditions in terms of severity, and the higher the Cobb angle, the larger the curve, and the more severe the condition is:
Mild scoliosis: Cobb angle measurement of between 10 and 25 degrees
Moderate scoliosis: Cobb angle measurement of between 25 and 40 degrees
Severe scoliosis: Cobb angle measurement of 40+ degrees
Very-severe scoliosis: Cobb angle measurement of 80+ degrees
Scoliosis ranges widely in severity, making it a complex condition to treat, and in addition, there are also different condition types: another key classification point.
Approximately 80 percent of known scoliosis cases are classified as idiopathic, meaning not clearly associated with a single-known cause, and the remaining 20 percent are associated with known causes: neuromuscular scoliosis, degenerative scoliosis, and congenital scoliosis.
Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) is the condition’s most-prevalent form, so let’s explore its characteristics and treatment needs.
As mentioned, scoliosis is most often diagnosed in adolescents between the ages of 10 and 18, and as a progressive condition, scoliosis has it in its nature to get worse over time.
The condition’s severity levels are also its progressive line: mild to moderate and severe to very severe.
So where a teenager’s scoliosis is at the time of diagnosis doesn’t mean that’s where it will stay, which is why proactive treatment is so important.
Although we don’t fully understand what triggers the onset of idiopathic scoliosis, we do know what makes it progress: growth and development.
Adolescents and teenagers are at risk for rapid-phase progression because of the stage of puberty they are in, or are entering into, characterized by rapid and unpredictable growth spurts.
Scoliosis is incurable and progressive, and while there are never treatment guarantees, if diagnosed early and treated proactively, there are fewer limits to what can be achieved.
When it comes to effective scoliosis treatment in adolescent, we’re talking about early detection coupled with proactive conservative treatment.
Traditional scoliosis treatment can be described as more reactive than proactive as it involves watching and waiting, if diagnosed as mild; traditional treatment is a surgical approach that doesn’t have a strategy for treating scoliosis while mild, only when patients progress into the severe level, becoming surgical candidates.
Spinal fusion surgery is a costly, invasive, and risky procedure, and the reality is that many cases of scoliosis can be treated successfully with non-operative treatment.
Here at the Scoliosis Reduction Center, I treat my patients with a modern conservative chiropractic-centered treatment approach that’s considered proactive because treatment is started as close to the time of diagnosis as possible.
As an idiopathic condition, we don’t fully understand what causes scoliosis in teenage, but we most certainly know how to treat it.
So for teenagers, what are symptoms of the condition, and how do they benefit from early detection?
Symptoms of Scoliosis in Teenagers
While each case is as unique as the patient themselves, and symptoms vary based on patient age, condition type, severity, and curvature location, the most common sign of scoliosis in adolescents is postural deviation.
In most cases, the condition’s earliest indicators are uneven shoulders and hips, and additional signs include:
These changes are due to the disruption of the body’s overall symmetry because of the condition’s uneven forces.
Early detection can increase chances of treatment success, if a diagnosis is responded to with proactive treatment, as it means starting treatment early in the condition’s progressive line, when it’s simpler to treat.
Oftentimes, clothing can become ill-fitting, and changes to gait, balance, and coordination are additional condition indicators.
If a teenager’s posture seems to have changed suddenly, along with the way they move, this can warrant the need for further testing.
When a person is diagnosed with scoliosis, the most important decision to be made is how to treat it, and as we discussed the shortfalls of traditional scoliosis treatment, let’s now explore the benefits of a conservative treatment approach.
Also known as functional and/or chiropractic-centered, nonsurgical treatment for scoliosis has the goal of managing progression, reducing the curve on a structural level, and holding the reduction despite the constant trigger of growth.
I monitor each patient closely to see how their spine is responding to treatment so plans can be adjusted accordingly.
By combining multiple condition-specific treatment disciplines, I can easily customize treatment plans to address key condition variables that vary from patient to patient; I integrate chiropractic care, in-office therapy, corrective bracing, and rehabilitation.
Condition-specific chiropractic care involves a series of techniques and manual adjustments that work towards adjusting the position of the curve’s most-tilted vertebrae.
With precise adjustments, the most-tilted vertebrae can be realigned with the rest of the spine, thereby reducing the size of the unnatural spinal curve on a structural level because as a structural condition, scoliosis has to be primarily impacted structurally for any kind of long-term corrective results.
In-office physical therapy and scoliosis-specific exercises (SSEs) can help by increasing core strength.
It’s not just the spine that’s in charge of maintaining its natural curves and alignment, but also its surrounding muscles, so if the muscles surrounding the spine are weak or imbalanced, their ability to support and stabilize the spine is disrupted; if the spine’s supportive muscles are strong, this takes pressure off the spine and its individual parts.
Certain SSEs are also known to help with activating areas of the brain for improved brain-body communication, postural remodeling, and a healthier body positioning.
Corrective bracing, such as the ScoliBrace, can be particularly effective on growing spines.
While traditional scoliosis braces are known to weaken the spine by squeezing it excessively, corrective bracing works by pushing the spine into a corrective position, augmenting corrective results achieved through other treatment disciplines.
As the ScoliBrace is customized to address a patient’s specific body and curvature type, they are more comfortable to wear and yield high rates of compliance.
Once I have achieved structural results in the form of a curvature reduction, and have increased core strength so the spine’s surrounding muscles can optimally support it, the final phase of treatment is rehabilitation.
Through a series of custom-prescribed exercises, patients can establish a home-rehabilitation program to further stabilize the spine for long-term sustainable treatment results.
A conservative approach to scoliosis treatment for teenager includes condition-specific treatment disciplines shaped and customized into an effective treatment plan.
Here at the Center, I believe in a proactive conservative treatment approach because I feel this is the best way to prevent progression and spare patients the related hardships.
As scoliosis progresses, the unnatural spinal curve is increasing in size, and the condition’s uneven forces are also increasing, as are its effects.
Postural deviation will become more noticeable, and muscle pain can be an issue, and as scoliosis progresses, the spine is becoming more rigid, making it less responsive to treatment.
So when it comes to planning care for an adolescent who has scoliosis, I want to ensure that parents and caregivers fully understand the nature of the condition and the importance of proactive treatment.
I also want to make sure that patients are aware of the different treatment options available to them so they can make an informed decision as different approaches have different potential outcomes.
Treating adolescent idiopathic scoliosis traditionally can involve spinal fusion surgery, while a conservative approach offers a nonsurgical alternative that strives to preserve as much of the spine’s natural function as possible.