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A Guide to Understanding Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis

Does the term “scoliosis” sound familiar? It may be something you may remember from grade school while completing your annual physical. It is a very common condition and we’re here to help provide some information to better understand this topic!

What is Adolecent Idiopathic Scoliosis?

The term "idiopathic" means that the cause in unknown, and "adolescent" refers to the age group being more associated with teenagers. "Scoliosis" is a condition where the spine has a curve to the side rather than being straight like a normal spine.

When combining the words, adolescent idiopathic scoliosis is describing a curvature of the spine due to an unknown cause occurring in the teenage years.

Why Does Scoliosis Happen?

When facing someone straight on, the spine is supposed to go straight up. For one reason or another (genetics, hormonal factors, environmental issues, etc.) the spine may start to develop a curve to the left or to the right indicating the onset of scoliosis. The cause varies from person to person.

Who Does It Affect?

Scoliosis affects everyone but it is more common in girls than boys. It most commonly presents in the adolescent years between the ages of 10 to 18 years old.

How Do You Know If You Have It?

A lot of the time, scoliosis can go undetected because you may not experience many symptoms like pain or noticeable changes in posture. On many occasions, scoliosis is first noticed by a family member or by your doctor on a routine checkup.

If a doctor suspects that you may have scoliosis, they may assess your back by standing upright and bending forward and likely follow-up with x-rays or your spine. This helps evaluate the extent of the curves of the spine.

Can Scoliosis Be Fixed?

Most of the time, scoliosis does not require correction and can be monitored over time. If the curve is small and you are minimally symptomatic, your doctor will lilely just monitor it to make sure it's not getting worse. Monitoring can take place annually or on an as needed basis.

However, if the curve becomes more severe, pain becomes more pronounced, or overall functionality decreases, treatment may be necessary. This could involve bracing, exercise and physical therapy, or in certain cases surgery may be necessary.

Treatment Options

Physical Therapy and Exercise: Physical therapy and exercise can help improve posture, strengthen muscles, and maintain flexibility. This will not directly reduce the degree of the curve but it can help the curve from progressing to a more symptomatic state.

Bracing: Bracing is commonly reserved for when a curve is more moderate in nature and the patient is still growing.  This will also help prevent the curve from significantly worsening while continuing to grow through adolescence.

Surgery: In severe cases, surgery may be indicated. This is typically reserved for those with increased pain, decreased functionality, or rapid or worsening progression of the curve which is not responding to conservative treatment. Surgery involves spinal fusion or possibly motion preservation straightening of the spine.

Fusion vs Motion Preservation Reduction

Spinal fusion involves fusing the vertebrae of the spine together. This is accomplished for patients with severe scoliosis to correct the curve in the spine, prevent further progression of the curve, improve pain, and restore functionality. Fusion has been the mainstay treatment to address severe scoliosis for several years and provide patients with reliable outcomes.

Motion preservation surgery is an alternative to severe scoliosis correction for certain patient populations. In contrary to the spinal fusion, the motion preservation surgery, also known as Apifix, allows patients to have significant improvement in the curve while also maintaining some element of motion throughout the extent of the instrumentation correcting the curve. Similarly, to the spinal fusion, the procedure also corrects the curve, prevents the progression of the curve, improves pain, and restores functionality. Both patient populations do well. It is important to have the conversation with your doctor for what procedure is right for you.

Living with Scoliosis

If you have scoliosis, it's important to know that you’re not alone. There are many people with scoliosis that live functional, healthy, and active lifestyles without limitations. There may be some minor lifestyle adjustments that need to take place depending on your situation such as increased exercise programs and routine doctor visits for monitoring, but changes are typically very minimal!

Wrapping Up

With the right care, attention, monitoring, and treatment, adolescent idiopathic scoliosis should not be a limitation. Most people do very well and live great lives with scoliosis and so can you. If you have any further questions about your scoliosis or someone you know, we are here to help!

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