Your spine, or backbone, helps hold your body upright. Without it, you couldn't walk, run or play sports.
If you look at yourself sideways in the mirror or look at a friend from the side, you'll notice that the back isn't flat like a piece of board. Instead, it curves in and out between your neck and lower back. Despite that gentle curve from the side, a healthy spine appears to run straight down the middle of the back. The trouble for someone with scoliosis is that the spine curves from side to side.
If you have scoliosis, you are not alone. About 3 out of every 100 people have some form of scoliosis, though for many people it's not much of a problem.
What are the signs and symptoms of scoliosis?
Sometimes scoliosis is easy to see. A curve in the spine can make the body tilt to the left or right. If you have scoliosis, it might look like you are leaning to one side. Some people have one shoulder that is higher than the other or one shoulder blade that sticks out more than the other. If your spine is twisted, one side of your rib cage might stick out more when you bend over.
Often, scoliosis isn't obvious. That's why healthcare providers perform a scoliosis exam as part of your regular checkup.
How is scoliosis diagnosed?
If you think you have scoliosis, make an appointment. Your provider will examine you and take your medical history to help make a diagnosis. Part of the medical history is asking questions about your family's health, because scoliosis can run in families.
Your provider may refer you to an orthopedic specialist. These experts treat diseases of the bones and muscles. They see lots of teens with scoliosis and can decide if you need treatment.
Healthcare providers measure scoliosis curves in degrees:
- A mild curve is less than 20 degrees.
- A moderate curve is between 25 degrees and 40 degrees.
- A severe curve is more than 50 degrees.
How is scoliosis treated?
There's no quick fix for scoliosis. Wearing a brace or recovering from surgery takes a while. For some people, this can be tough.
There are several different types of braces. If you need a brace, your orthopedic specialist will decide on the number of hours you'll wear it each day and night.
The brace acts as a holding device that keeps a curve from getting worse. A brace won't make your spine straight. But if it does its job well, your curve won't get bigger.
Some teens with severe scoliosis need a type of surgery called a spinal fusion. During the operation, an orthopedic surgeon straightens the spine as much as possible and holds it in place with rods and screws. The surgeon then puts in bone graft to join (fuse) some of the vertebrae together. That way, the curve can't get any worse.
Your care team can put you in touch with other people who have gone through the same thing or help you find support groups as you pave the road to recovery.
When treatment is over, people with scoliosis are able to live full and active lives. As long as people get the right treatment as kids or teens, their spine usually won't continue to curve after they're done growing.