In the UK, scoliosis affects around three to four children in every 1,000 and it’s thought that up to 70% of over 65-year-olds might have some degree of scoliosis. But, how do you know if you have it and what can you do about it?
What is scoliosis?
It’s quite normal for our spine to curve – it occurs, for instance, when we lift something, or slouch in a chair. However, when that curve sits at an angle greater than 10 degrees and doesn’t go away, it may be a sign of scoliosis.
Scoliosis is a sideways curve of your spine. The curve may manifest as a C-shape or an S-shape (where two curves have, in fact, occurred) and it can also cause your spine to twist. These curves can occur in different parts of the spine. For instance, if the curvature is found in the chest area, this is known as thoracic scoliosis, and that can have a knock-on effect on how your lungs work.
What causes scoliosis?
The condition (because scoliosis is a condition, not a disease) can develop at any age, although it is most typically seen in children between the ages of 10 and 15. It is also more common in women than men. Early signs include one shoulder sitting higher than the other, or one shoulder or hip appearing more prominent than the other. It can also affect the way in which your ribcage sits.
Scoliosis can occur as a result of a neurological condition, such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. In the vast majority of cases, however, there is no known cause – this is called idiopathic scoliosis. We do know, however, that scoliosis isn’t caused by exercise, carrying heavy objects or your sleeping position.
How is scoliosis diagnosed?
Diagnosis and treatment for scoliosis depends on your age and the severity of your condition. In very young children treatment is not always necessary, because the curve in the spine may improve naturally over time. For many adults, treatment is largely aimed at helping to relieve pain, since the curve has already occurred and the spine has stopped growing. By contrast, scoliosis in children and young adults can respond very well to treatment.
If you think your child might have scoliosis, the first step is always to visit your doctor. He or she will examine their back, ribs, hips and shoulders. Your child may be asked to bend forward, as this helps to show up any inconsistencies, such as a misalignment in the hips or a bulge in the back. Your doctor may then send your child for an X-ray, which can help to answer questions about the shape, direction, location and angle of the curve in the spine.
At LOC, we would always prefer that any child we see comes along with a referral from a consultant and recent X-rays. If you do not have a consultant, we are able to make recommendations.
How can scoliosis be treated?
In instances of idiopathic scoliosis, LOC uses a state-of-the art DIERS spinal scanner – indeed, we were the first clinic in the UK to use this type of technology – which provides us with a fast, contactless and radiation-free measurement of the back’s surface and spine. We also assess the whole body to see if we can improve foot and leg alignment, as these issues can have a significant effect on the alignment of your pelvis.
If your child’s scoliosis is mild, we would usually recommend wearing ‘dynamic’ Lycra garments. These are designed to apply a global compression to the area of the body over which they are worn. This compression acts to increase an individual’s awareness of that part of the body, a process called proprioception.
In more severe cases, we treat our patients using bespoke spinal bracing manufactured from a cast. This prevents the spine from curving further as a child continues to grow.
BraceSim: A new tool to treat scoliosis
To help increase the effectiveness of our braces, LOC now uses a simulation tool called BraceSim. Simulation technology is more commonly found in industries such as aeronautics or car manufacture, but it is becoming increasingly useful in medicine. BraceSim works by using scans of the patient’s spine and pelvis to create a virtual patient. From there, we can design a virtual brace and use it to evaluate the efficiency of our design. We can visualise and test any changes on elements such as strap tension and fine tune each measurement. This allows us to see the impact on the spine’s curvature before we even begin to manufacture the final brace.
In some instances of scoliosis, however, bracing is not enough and a form of surgery called spinal fusion may be necessary. This helps to reduce curvature by fusing several bones in the spine and attaching metal rods to keep it straight.
If you’re concerned about your child’s spine (or your own) and would like to talk to someone about treatment, please don’t hesitate to contact LOC and we will be happy to help and advise you.