Overview | Causes | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | FAQ
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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 spinal 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 one to four 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.
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. If either one or both shoulder blades are prominent, the waist
is shifted or ribs are uneven, scoliosis may be present.
Outlined below are some of the diagnostic tools that your physician may
use to gain insight into your condition and determine the best treatment
- Medical history: Conducting a detailed medical history
helps the doctor better understand the possible causes of your back
and neck pain, which can help outline the most appropriate treatment.
- Physical exam: During the physical exam, your physician
will try to pinpoint the source of pain. Simple tests for flexibility
and muscle strength may also be conducted.
- X-rays are usually the first step in diagnostic testing
methods. X-rays show bones and the space between bones. They are of
limited value, however, since they do not show muscles and ligaments.
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses a magnetic field
and radio waves to generate highly detailed pictures of the inside of
your body. Since X-rays only show bones, MRIs are needed to visualize
soft tissues like discs in the spine. This type of imaging is very safe
and usually pain-free.
- CT scan/myelogram: A CT scan is similar to an MRI in
that it provides diagnostic information about the internal structures
of the spine. A myelogram is used to diagnose a bulging disc, tumor,
or changes in the bones surrounding the spinal cord or nerves. A local
anesthetic is injected into the low back to numb the area. A lumbar
puncture (spinal tap) is then performed. A dye is injected into the
spinal canal to reveal where problems lie.
- Electrodiagnostics: Electrical testing of the nerves
and spinal cord may be performed as part of a diagnostic workup. These
tests, called electromyography (EMG) or somatosensory evoked potentials
(SSEP), assist your doctor in understanding how your nerves or spinal
cord are affected by your condition.
- Bone scan: Bone imaging is used to detect infection,
malignancy, fractures and arthritis in any part of the skeleton. Bone
scans are also used for finding lesions for biopsy or excision.
- Discography - Discography is used to determine the internal
structure of your disc. It is performed with a local anesthetic by injecting
dye into the disc under X-ray guidance. An X-ray or CT scan is performed
to determine if the disc’s structure is normal or abnormal and
if the injection causes pain. A benefit of a discogram is that it enables
the spine surgeon to determine the disc level that is causing pain.
And if surgery is necessary, discography helps ensure a successful surgery and reduces the risk
of operating on the wrong disc.
- Injections - These can act as a
bridge to physical therapy by relieving back pain and providing the
physician with important information about your problem.
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. Georgia Neurological Surgery & Georgia Comprehensive Spine does not perform pediatric scoliosis surgery, however our spine specialists can offer a referral to a regional scoliosis expert if surgery is necessary. 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. Georgia Neurological Surgery & Georgia Comprehensive Spine does not perform scoliosis surgery, however our spine specialists can offer a referral to a regional scoliosis expert if surgery is necessary.
How can I tell if I have scoliosis?
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.
When is scoliosis considered dangerous
to my health?
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.
What are some of the nonsurgical ways
to treat scoliosis?
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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