What is scoliosis?
Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine as you can see on my X-rays below. The most common parts of the spine for the curvature to occur is in the upper (thoracic) spine or lower (lumbar) spine. Sometimes, as in my case, there can be more than one curve and the spine will curve into an ‘S’ shape. This type of scoliosis is often more difficult to detect because the curves balance themselves out. My scoliosis went undetected for several years because even though my curves were severe, due to the ‘S’ shape they weren’t that noticeable to the untrained eye.
With scoliosis the spine can also twist as it curves. With thoracic curves, this can cause the rib cage to rotate which can push the ribs into a “rib hump” and make them look more prominent on one side. This can also make the shoulder blade protrude on one side and make it uncomfortable to sit against hard chairs. This is how I first noticed my scoliosis, as I started finding it uncomfortable to sit on the plastic chairs in the school assembly.
What are the symptoms of scoliosis?
The symptoms of scoliosis can vary depending on the type and location of the curve. However the main symptoms can include:
- One shoulder appearing higher than the other
- A prominent rib cage on one side
- A protruding shoulder blade on one side
- One hip being higher than the other
- Clothes not hanging properly
- Back pain (although this is more common in adults with scoliosis)
- A visible curve in the spine
- Waist appearing uneven
What causes scoliosis?
In 80% of cases, it is unknown what causes scoliosis. These cases are called Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis, which is what I was diagnosed with.
Rarely, it is possible for babies to be born with scoliosis, this type of scoliosis is called Congenital scoliosis.
In older adults, age related degeneration in the spine can also cause scoliosis. This type of scoliosis is known as degenerative scoliosis.
Scoliosis is NOT caused by bad posture, exercise or diet. It is also NOT caused by carrying backpacks. (there really is a lot of rubbish written about scoliosis online!)
Who is mostly affected by scoliosis?
Scoliosis can affect anyone but it is more common in girls and generally presents itself during the teenage growth spurt years (between ages 10-15). My scoliosis started to develop at age 11 but it was not detected until I was 14. It is important that it is spotted and treated early as this can help to avoid surgery. My scoliosis was unfortunately spotted too late, as I had finished growing and by then it had already progressed to severe levels.
How is scoliosis treated?
This all depends on the type of scoliosis, a persons age, the severity of the scoliosis and when it is spotted.
- Bracing – this can help to stop progression if the scoliosis is spotted early enough. For example, bracing would be used in children and younger teeangers to halt the curve until the child finishes growing. Unfortunately, bracing was not an option for me because I had already finished growing when my scoliosis was detected.
- Monitoring (watch and wait) – I was monitored by a scoliosis specialist for 10 years (from age 14-24). This involved an annual appointment where they took x-rays and measured them to make sure that my scoliosis was not progressing.
- Spinal Fusion – This will only be recommended in severe cases (usually in curves over 50 degrees). This is because larger curves (over 50 degrees) may be at risk of progression in the future due to gravity on the spine. I was recommended this surgery because my scoliosis was over 80 degrees, so it was considered to be severe.
- Exercise and physiotherapy – Exercise or physiotherapy is mainly recommended to help with managing pain caused by the muscle imbalances associated with scoliosis.
Please note that any treatment or monitoring of scoliosis should be done by a scoliosis specialist (NOT a general orthopaedic surgeon). You can contact the Scoliosis Association for a list of scoliosis specialists near you and take this to your GP. I was monitored for years by a general orthopaedic surgeon (I didn’t realise this at the time) and as a result I was given incorrect information – so it’s important that scoliosis is monitored/treated by a specialist.