Typically described as a physical deformity, scoliosis is a medical condition characterised by having an S-shaped spine that curves to the left or right. Scoliosis is a common ailment that affects people of any age, although symptoms can start occurring during early childhood or infancy. This condition is usually found in patients between the ages of 10 and 15 years old, with adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) being the most prevalent form of the ailment.
Over time, a person diagnosed with scoliosis may experience increased pressure on their vertebral discs. If the spine’s lateral curvature worsens, one might experience pain as well as other bone-related ailments like spinal osteoarthritis (deterioration of joint cartilage) and spondylolisthesis (vertebrae slipping out of place).
Although there is currently no cure for scoliosis, most cases can be managed or corrected. With the right treatment, patients can prevent symptoms from worsening and causing further spinal degradation. That said, let’s get into the most common treatments that may help scoliosis patients manage pain, improve function, and live easier despite their condition.
Corrective braces are a popular form of scoliosis treatment, especially for children whose skeletal systems are still growing. Braces won’t necessarily reverse or cure scoliosis, but they can prevent spinal curve progression. Normally, this treatment is reserved for severe or moderate cases rather than mild spinal deformities.
Most braces are meant to be worn for 13 to 16 hours daily and under the clothes. A standard back brace is worn under the arms and around the patient’s lower back, hips, and ribs. Children with braces may participate in physical activities to an extent, as long as the doctor’s recommendations for using and wearing them are followed. It’s also ideal to schedule checkups every four to six months to monitor developments in the patient’s spine while wearing the brace for prolonged hours.
Surgery is usually reserved for severe cases of scoliosis, but adults may also opt to undergo surgery for cosmetic purposes subject to their doctors’ approval. Most of the time, a doctor would recommend surgery if there are signs of progression (i.e., a spinal curvature beyond 40 degrees) or other medical issues such as nerve damage and bladder-related problems. It’s also worth noting that adults who have been treated for scoliosis as children may need revision surgery, especially if they were treated at least two decades ago when spinal surgery techniques were not as advanced.
Spinal fusion is one of the most common scoliosis-related surgical procedures, with roughly 38,000 patients making hospital visits for this purpose. This invasive procedure involves placing bones or bone-like materials between the patient’s vertebrae to stabilise a part of their spine. The goal is to fuse the bones to prevent them from moving independently. To keep the patient’s spine straight, the surgeon will have to insert metal hooks, screws, wires, and rods to hold the bones in place.
Another surgical option of note is vertebral body tethering, which involves fitting the spine with screws connected to a cord that can be tightened to straighten the spine. Children may also undergo a type of surgery in which two expandable rods will be inserted along their spine, keeping it aligned while the skeletal structure matures. These rods will be manually extended every three to six months as the child grows.
Physical Therapy and Exercise
Although scoliosis patients are restricted from participating in strenuous and potentially spine-damaging activities, doctors can still recommend physical therapy to maintain function and good posture. Physical therapy may cover therapeutic exercises designed to mobilise the patient’s joints, stretch the patient’s muscles, and improve the patient’s range of motion. A physical therapist could work with the patient on personalised exercises designed to stabilise, elongate, and de-rotate their spine. In addition, doctors might recommend that patients do core-strengthening and low-impact exercises such as biking, swimming, yoga, and elliptical workouts.
Massage and Pain Relief
Back pain is not an unusual symptom and side effect of scoliosis, but it can be temporarily alleviated through massage therapy. Deep-tissue massage, for instance, is a neuromuscular therapy meant to increase blood flow and elongate tightened areas. This will help relax the patient’s spine and relieve muscle pain.
Cranial-sacral therapy is another form of therapy worth checking out. This therapy uses light touch and gentle pressure to mobilise the restricted tissue within and around the patient’s spinal column. Aside from providing short-term pain relief, cranial-sacral therapy can potentially help balance the patient’s spine.
Doctors may also recommend that patients use heat and ice therapy in addition to these treatments. Using a warm compress or having a warm bath is typically a great way to improve blood circulation and soothe one’s muscles. On the other hand, applying ice packs may combat inflammation and alleviate pain by numbing painful or tender areas.
Scoliosis Doesn’t Have to Be Unmanageable
Although these are the common types of treatment for scoliosis, this list is not definitive. Doctors may prescribe other ways to manage the condition such as abiding by a healthy diet, using a firm mattress for sleeping, or taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs) for pain relief. Having scoliosis could also lead to issues such as low self-esteem and depression, which is why some doctors recommend additional mental health-related treatments like counselling and talk therapy.
It takes a lot of effort to manage scoliosis, but these treatment options show that it is possible to live with the ailment. All in all, scoliosis can be a tough challenge for anyone as well as their families. Still, it pays to be armed with a great deal of patience, mindfulness, and the will to live a normal life and not be defined by physical limits.