11 December 2019
LOC first met 11-year-old Yasmin after she found out she had adolescent idiopathic scoliosis quite by chance; an X-ray taken for a chest complaint revealed she had abnormal twisting and curvature of the spine.
Scoliosis affects around three to four children in every 1,000 in the UK, most typically, between the ages of 10 of 15. Analysis of Yasmin’s X-ray revealed she had a Cobb angle – the metric for measuring the extent of the bend in the spine – in excess of 40֯, which meant she fell within NHS guidelines for requiring surgery.
She was immediately referred for treatment. However, her parents were keen to avoid painful spinal surgery with all the associated risks and lengthy recovery time. So, they contacted LOC in the hope of finding an alternative route.
Yasmin was examined at our Kingston clinic by LOC clinician Anna Courtney, who measured Yasmin’s trunk rotation with a scoliometer; this is a small non-invasive device that is placed over the spine while the patient is being measured is in a forward bending position. This showed that Yasmin had quite a large rotation, called a ‘rear hump’.
“There was a severe asymmetry in her shoulders that measured 21֯,” says Anna. “But she was very flexible and her parents wanted to proceed as quickly as they could in the hope of avoiding the need for surgery when she’s older.”
Bone growth is measured on a scale from zero to five and Yasmin’s was zero. Concerned that her scoliosis could rapidly decline if not treated straight away, Anna recommended that she be fitted for a brace and begin a course of physiotherapy. As skeletal maturity occurs between 14 and 17 years old in girls, Yasmin’s bones and spine were still malleable, making her an ideal candidate for bracing treatment, which can reduce both the curve and Cobb angle, and, crucially for Yasmin, the need for surgery in later life.
As Yasmin’s Cobb angle was in excess of 25֯, she was scanned and photographed for a custom-made Gensingen Brace by Dr Weiss®, which treats scoliosis by immobilising the patient and guiding the body through a gentle corrective movement that realigns the spine and reduces distortions in posture. Alongside the brace, which she wears at all times except when showering and during sports activities, Yasmin has started a comprehensive course of Schroth method physiotherapy with LOC expert Deborah Turnbull.
Anna has been particularly impressed by this young lady’s dedication to the programme: “Yasmin probably does about an hour-and-a-half to two hours of exercises a week in her own time, and then she comes to an hour-long group session here at LOC every fortnight,” she says.
That effort has made all the difference, with Yasmin making excellent progress in just six months. “She had grown in height by about 5cm, which helped the process, and her Cobb angle had reduced to 21֯,” says Anna. She goes on to explain: “In the bracing, we try to stimulate growth on the shorter side of the curve by offloading that side and almost overloading the wider side. This allows the shorter side to grow a little bit faster than the side that we’re compressing. So, that’s why we completely rely on growth to make that happen. It’s why bracing isn’t an option in adults, because the vertebrae have stopped growing and, as soon as a brace comes off, the spine falls back into its old shape.”
Both Yasmin and her parents are delighted with the improvement, especially as her NHS appointment has since come through and new X-rays have confirmed that she no longer requires surgery; instead, she will have twice-yearly monitoring. “Visually, you would not know she has scoliosis anymore,” says Anna. “And, she’s way away from surgical limits.”
Anna credits Yasmin’s diligence and determination with that success. “It really depends on the patient’s willingness to put in the time and effort with their treatment,” she says. “And, Yasmin has been exceptional for her age.”
But the hard work isn’t over yet. Ideally, Yasmin will wear the brace until she is skeletally mature (around 17) but, says Anna, “we will start reducing her hours in it as the curve comes down.”
In the meantime, Yasmin has been fitted for a new brace to accommodate her growth in height and improved spinal curve.
They say timing is everything and that’s certainly been the case for Yasmin. By starting her treatment at the optimal age, she has been able to reap the long-term rewards, which Anna believes has been crucial to her rapid progress. “At LOC, we can fit a brace within two weeks of a consultation,” she says. “We’ve had patients who have been waiting for NHS appointments for six to eight months, and within that time, their curves have progressed considerably. We can act rapidly.”
Yasmin’s results speak for themselves and have certainly proved what can be achieved with the right treatment and a positive mindset. Her improved posture has boosted her self-confidence and with the motivation, she has shown already, we have no doubt she will continue to make excellent progress.
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My results are amazing and unexpected, and I am glad that I received the brace through LOC. I am still wearing the brace 18 months later and my back feels even straighter. Thanks to LOC I realised that I wanted to help people with similar if not the same condition as me, so I am now going to Salford University in September to study Orthotics and Prosthetics so I will hopefully be able to help others with Scoliosis as much as LOC has helped me.
If you say something is going to be easy it will be easy and if you say something will be hard it will be hard. So, I'm just going to say that wearing my brace is easy. And as it turns out, it really is.
Sally and Debs have helped remove the stress from our situation. They have given us hope based on their extensive knowledge and expertise.
I had my brace fitted and I was also given a personalised exercise programme to help with my 3D rotation. Not only was I wearing this new brace but I still had my pectus brace on and the amazing orthotists managed to combine the two so they worked together. I really struggled with this at first; however, I kept going and now I’m really glad I did. My scoliosis overcorrected by 10 degrees and I was able to reduce my scoliosis brace wear to 16 hours a day within 6 weeks.
Don’t wait. It’s about the children because they are more likely to be confident in their late teens if you act quickly and support them. We have been lucky because we understand the condition well. That’s one of the main things, to be honest. It was hard work, but it pays off in the end.
I finally found that I had arrived at the right place and something was actually being done.
My pain levels are hugely improved, my ribs were tender and now they are not. My brace was made individually for me. It’s not one size fits all and, if it is not completely perfect, LOC alters it on the spot. I was so surprised that I could wear the brace under my clothes, I did not need to go and buy anything, I just wear loose tops.
The brace is very light. Obviously, the first couple of days we were told it was going to be uncomfortable for her, I bought so many pillows! But although the first night was not very comfortable, the second night she got used to it and then she was wearing it all day long and I thought ‘that’s brilliant!’ She was only taking it off for two or three hours to go out with friends or do the exercises, but she didn’t have any problems really.
Debs and Sally are fantastic. I mean, they’ve become like family now. They are extraordinary people and do such good work with these kids, both of them, it’s fantastic. The whole experience has been very good. They make you feel welcome from the beginning, and you can ask as many questions as you want, and they answer everything. If you have a problem they give you their personal mobile so you can just call them if you have a problem and they’ll solve it straight away. I’m very pleased with the treatment, the people, with everything.
She’s wearing the brace all the time now and she’s doing very well. She’s very good at school too, the brace doesn’t get in the way of anything. It fits underneath her school uniform and you can’t see it. Sometimes I even have to ask her when she’s sitting down if she’s wearing it because I can’t see it! She says ‘of course mummy’ and I say ‘let me try!’ I have to knock through the clothes and only then can I hear she’s wearing the brace!
Obviously, the results speak for themselves. I would definitely credit LOC, but if I were to give any advice [to parents in a similar position] it would be to contact Debs and Sally. Ricarda likes it there, she loves the people like Debs and Sally and felt really comfortable, everything was really relaxed and nice. She worked really hard during training with Debs who kept saying that Ricarda was such a workhorse!
The operation used to treat severe scoliosis curves is typically spinal fusion surgery; a major procedure that involves moving muscles and realigning the skeleton into place. The curved, deformed vertebrae are fused together into a single bone, putting metal screws and rods into the spine to help straighten it. Surgery typically lasts between 4 and 8 hours depending on the severity of the curve. Bone graft is then taken from other parts of the body and used to cover the implants.
Following the operation, it is necessary to spend around a week in intensive care before returning home and the first few days are often uncomfortable. Most adolescents can expect to return to school from 2-4 weeks following surgery, but pain medication may be required up to 6 weeks following. A full recovery from the procedure can take up to a year, as it can take that long for the spine to heal fully.
Spinal fusion surgery causes the fused portion of the back to become permanently stiff, as a result, returning to sports that require large amounts of flexibility (ballet, yoga, gymnastics, dance) or contact (rugby, football, karate, hockey) may take longer.
Risks of spinal fusion surgery are like that of any other major procedure and include infection, blood clots and anaesthesia complications. The added risks include permanent nerve damage to the spine and paralysis.