Scoliosis is a disorder that affects some 5 to 7 million Americans. A normal spine, as observed from behind the body, is aligned straight up and down. A spine with scoliosis is seen to have excessive side-to-side curvature, resulting in a “C” or “S” shape. It is different from kyphosis (hump back) or lordosis (swayback), which are curvatures of the spine from front to back. Scoliosis is not merely a problem with posture, although people with scoliosis may seem to lean to one side or another. Not only does their spine curve excessively, their vertebrae are often rotated, which may cause a “rib hump” in the middle or thoracic area of the spine. The curvature may result in the shoulders or the hips appearing uneven.
Approximately 85% of all cases of scoliosis are idiopathic, meaning they have no known cause. It is usually diagnosed during childhood and occurs equally in girls and boys: however some cases of scoliosis are caused by osteoporosis or other degenerative diseases of the spine. Scoliosis seems to have a genetic component because it runs in families. For unknown reasons, scoliosis curves are 5 to 8 times more likely to grow and need treatment in girls than in boys.
Mild scoliosis often requires no treatment, but if the curve grows to a moderate size, or about 60 degrees, braces, surgery or other treatments are usually necessary. Attempting to adjust one’s own posture is ineffective in treating scoliosis. When implemented during adolescence, braces can be very effective in preventing the curves from increasing, avoiding the need for surgery. However, braces cannot completely restore the spine to its normal shape, and may not be able to prevent an increase in curvature. Surgery is painful, expensive and requires significant alterations to lifestyle, although it can be effective in reducing curvature. Surgery should be considered a last resort treatment for scoliosis.
Chiropractic care has been shown to be useful in reducing the spinal curvature of scoliosis, reducing pain and limiting disability. However, it is key that a multi-modal approach be used, rather than just one or two techniques. Diagnosis of scoliosis may include the Adam’s Forward Bending Test, X-rays, limb measurements, range of motion tests and a medical history. In addition to braces, treatment may include individualized exercises, X-rays, spinal manipulations and adjustments, shoe lifts and electrical stimulation. Specifically, the combination of spinal manipulation and postural therapy is critical to success. Chiropractors are experts in spinal problems, and they avoid the use of drugs or surgery. They will not only examine your physical condition, but also your lifestyle, medical history, family history and overall health, as all may contribute to the condition, as well as creating the best plan for treatment and rehabilitation. As scoliosis is not a condition that can be treated overnight, a long course of visits may be necessary to see results. A good chiropractor will not only monitor your progress over time but will coordinate with other health care professionals as needed to ensure the best possible outcome.