June is Scoliosis Awareness Month. You may have heard of scoliosis if you live in a state that mandates scoliosis screenings for school-aged children. Not all states require this, and scoliosis often goes undetected for years. About 3 % of the U.S. population lives with some degree of scoliosis.

Here’s everything you need to know about how scoliosis can effect you or your child and what you can do.

What is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis is an abnormal sideways curvature of the spine. Some people are born with it, but it typically develops between the ages of ten and fifteen. About 85% of scoliosis cases are idiopathic– meaning they have no known cause. Researchers think genetics may play a role, but routine screening is the only way to know if a child has scoliosis. Females are more prone to progressive scoliosis.

Some cases of scoliosis are mild enough that they go unnoticed throughout a person’s life. Others are visible. Moderate and severe cases of scoliosis can cause a person’s posture to look uneven. One shoulder or hip may be higher than the other, or one side of the rib cage or one shoulder blade may protrude outward.

Scoliosis has been recorded since ancient times. The Greeks described the disorder and gave it its name (which means ‘crooked’). Over time many remedies have been tried. There is still no cure or prevention for scoliosis, but there are treatments that prevent it from progressing.

How is Scoliosis Diagnosed?

Screening for scoliosis is non-invasive. The patient leans forward from the waist with arms extended towards their feet while a trained specialist looks at and palpates their back. It’s usually easy to tell if the spine is crooked. X-rays may also be necessary to determine the severity of the condition. Your provider should be able to tell you what degree of curvature your spine has. Curves of less than 25 degrees are considered mild, while curves over 25 degrees require treatment. When scoliosis is diagnosed in a child or adolescent, even minor curves should be reevaluated on a regular basis to make sure they aren’t worsening as the child grows.

What Problems Can Scoliosis Cause?

The long-term effects of scoliosis depend on the degree of curvature. Those with a severe curve may experience breathing difficulty because the curve will shift the rib cage leaving less room for the lungs. A high degree of curvature in the lower spine can cause bowel problems. Even mild curves can cause back pain and muscle spasms. Moderate and severe curvature that goes untreated can result in bone spurs that, in some cases, may put pressure on the spinal cord. Some people with mild scoliosis don’t experience pain or other side effects. Early treatment can mitigate many long-term effects of scoliosis.

How is Scoliosis Treated?

Treatment for scoliosis depends on the severity and the age of the patient. Treatments are most effective in young patients who are still growing. Moderate curves in children can be kept in check with a brace. Modern scoliosis braces are less bulky and more comfortable than older models and can be worn under clothing. Extreme curves of greater than 45 degrees may require spinal fusion surgery. This procedure does not fully correct the curve, but it can lessen it and keep it from getting worse. Routine chiropractic care, along with stretches and strengthening exercises, can be used for mild and moderate scoliosis. In the case of moderate scoliosis, these treatments should be used along with a brace.

Adult’s whose scoliosis has gone untreated will not benefit from a brace but may be candidates for surgery if the curve is severe. Most people’s symptoms can be managed without surgery. Strengthening exercises, therapeutic stretches, and weight-bearing exercises can minimize symptoms and improve quality of life.

Some adults experience scoliosis that did not start in childhood. Adult-onset scoliosis can be caused by arthritis or osteoporosis. In these cases, the underlying condition must also be treated. Some of the same treatments that help genetic scoliosis are also good for arthritis and osteoporosis. Dietary changes, hormone treatments, and other medications may also be necessary for osteoporosis patients. No matter the cause, it is important to treat scoliosis and degenerating spinal curves before they become debilitating.

Lifestyle Changes for Scoliosis

In-office care is an important part of scoliosis treatment, but what you do at home can greatly affect treatment outcomes. All types of scoliosis can be worsened by bad posture. Your chiropractor can suggest simple steps you can take to improve your posture at work and home. This may be as simple as placing a pillow behind your lower back when you sit or raising your computer screen to eye level. Your provider can also talk to your child about maintaining healthy posture in school and make sure their backpack is being packed and carried correctly.

He may also suggest you change your sleeping habits. We spend one-third of our lives sleeping, so it’s no surprise that how we sleep can affect our spinal health. Medium-firm or firm mattresses are usually recommended for scoliosis patients. You may also need to support your back with pillows and experiment with sleeping on your back vs. sleeping on your side.

A good diet is essential to overall health and can minimize discomfort in scoliosis patients. Try to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables– they contain inflammation-fighting chemicals that can reduce pain and stiffness. Omega 3s, such as those found in fish oil, also reduce inflammation and help to lubricate joints. Make sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D. These nutrients work together to build healthy bones.

Last but not least, please do your at-home stretches as assigned by your provider. You spend much more time at home than you do in your provider’s office. Receiving traction or other therapy a couple of times a week is helpful, but you won’t see fast results if you don’t do your daily stretches or exercises as recommended. A reward system can help children stay motivated to do their at-home therapy.

Do you or your child need scoliosis treatment? Our chiropractors in Kentucky can diagnose and treat scoliosis in children and adults. Scoliosis doesn’t have to mean lifelong pain. Come in today and see how we can improve your quality of life.