Scoliosis is defined as abnormal lateral (to the side) curvature of the spine measuring greater than 10 degrees. When the body is viewed from behind, a normal spine appears straight. However, when a spine with a scoliosis is viewed from behind, a lateral, or side-to-side, curvature may be apparent. This gives the appearance of leaning to one side and should not be confused with poor posture.
A scoliotic curve may be functional or structural in nature. Functional curves may be positional. For example, if a person stands asymmetrically, with one knee bent, and the pelvis tilted downward, a curve will be present, but this will go away as soon as the knee is straightened and the pelvis is held parallel to the floor. Structural curves are those that have stiffness within them, such that they do not go away with changes of position. These therefore have much more significance than functional curves.
When the trunk is viewed from the side, the normal spine will demonstrate normal curves. The upper chest area has a normal roundback, or kyphosis, while in the lower spine there is a swayback, or lordosis. Increased roundback in the chest area is called hyperkyphosis, while increased swayback is termed hyperlordosis. Changes from normal on a side view frequently accompany scoliotic changes. The normal thoracic kyphosis is decreased with the most common form of scoliosis in adolescents.
Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine that can occur in any age group. Scoliosis is a coronal plane (i.e. side to side) deformity occurring in children, adolescents, and adults. Symptoms vary with age of onset and severity of the curvature; cosmetic problems including sitting imbalance, breathing difficulty or delayed development is common findings in infants and young children. A rib hump, pelvic or shoulder height imbalance tend to common in the adolescent group. Intractable back pain, sciatica, leg weakness or numbness and gait difficulty are common reasons for surgical correction in adults.
Kyphosis is seen when a person’s spinal balance has moved too far forward to allow the spine to effectively carry the body weight without progressive deformity, pain or neurologic loss of function. Patients typically walk in a forward flexed posture being unable to stand up straight. This condition can also occur along with scoliosis causing Kyphoscoliosis.
Treatment recommendations are made based on a combination of the severity of the curvature of the spine, the impact on the patient’s ability to function on a day-to-day basis, their age and other medical conditions. In very selected cases in younger, cosmetic appearance is a reason for surgery. In general the treatment should match the magnitude and risks of the symptoms.
In more mild forms of spinal deformities, bracing may be an option for younger patients where the spine may be .encouraged. to grow straighter. Adults may get some relief of pain with a brace, but it will not correct the deformity. Bracing may cause some problems like skin irritation or muscle disuse.
A mainstay of treatment is the flexibility and core strengthening of the spine, which can be enhanced by Physiotherapy (PT). There are many acceptable forms of PT, but they all share an active component where the patient exercises and strengthens the spinal musculature, improves range of motion and balance. It should be an active process, not simply limited to passive modalities like heat, ice or massage.Pain Management Injections
The injection of cortisone and similar medications with can offer temporary of focal relief of pain from mild nerve compression or joint arthritis. The injections are frequently repeated in groups of three and can only be given safely once or twice per year because of the side effects of the medications.
Prior to considering surgery, the typical patient should have tried and failed to manage their symptoms with non-operative treatments. Surgery should be considered in patients whose pain in medically refractory, or have neurologic symptoms including weakness, numbness or bowel or bladder dysfunction. Progressive worsening of the curvature is a common reason for surgery, and is the reason that patients are followed with yearly x-rays. Severe curves are felt to be unstable and tend to worsen despite all efforts at non-operative treatment; like a tree falling over, beyond a certain point it cannot be stopped without intervention.
Types of Surgery
Posterior fusion with spinal instrumentation is the most common procedure for the correction of scoliosis. Metal rods are anchored to the vertebra with screws and hooks (Titanium or Steel) in order to straighten and hold the spine in place. If there is a severe deformity, a cut is made in the bone, an Osteotomy, in order to realign the spine into a more normal orientation.
Anterior spinal fusions are also done for the correction of scoliosis. These are usually the more severe cases and are most commonly performed along with a posterior operation.