MYTHBUSTERS: Demystifying Scoliosis

Conversations around scoliosis typically arise during childhood (many people can recall having their spine briefly examined on a “scoliosis screening” day during the school year) and yet, over time, the myths and misconceptions surrounding scoliosis seemed to skew our understanding of it.

Scoliosis is a side-to-side curve of your spine, which differs from the body’s natural front-to-back curve. While it’s typically mild and asymptomatic in younger people, scoliosis can eventually lead to back pain and abnormal posture, among other issues. Healthcare providers often diagnose scoliosis during childhood and adolescence, when back braces may be most helpful for a fast-growing body; however, adults can also be diagnosed, too – and effective treatments are available at various ages and stages.

In a time when there is an overabundance of contradictory information circulating online, concerns and fears tend to increase. As professionals in the “spinal space,” we’re here to share some scoliosis facts – and bring you peace of mind.

Let’s demystify scoliosis, shall we?

MYTH #1: Scoliosis is Preventable

If you’re a parent to a child with scoliosis, this is your sign to drop the guilt: there’s no adequate proof that scoliosis is preventable. In fact, the vast majority of scoliosis cases are idiopathic, meaning there is no known cause – no diet, type of exercise, posture or lifestyle practice has been proven to prevent scoliosis. Scoliosis can also worsen quickly during adolescence because children grow faster during this time, so it’s common for parents to feel as though a curvature appeared or worsened “out of nowhere.”

The only thing you can do as a parent is take a proactive approach in getting your children screened and treated if/when diagnosed. Early diagnosis and treatment may help correct the spinal curve or slow the progression of scoliosis (source: NJ Spine & Orthopedic). Bracing can be useful to prevent the worsening of a curvature when done during those early childhood/adolescent years.

MYTH #2: “Wait and Watch” Before Treating / Children Can “Outgrow” Spinal Curves

While some physicians might recommend you “wait and watch” mild scoliosis in its early stages (a commonplace strategy before modern medicine and technology), putting off diagnosis and treatment of scoliosis isn’t recommended. Ligaments in the spine can weaken as we age, so it’s best to address scoliosis as proactively as possible. It is not wise to wait and see if it progresses or stabilizes when your child stops growing.

Also, children cannot “outgrow” their spinal curves. No one outgrows an abnormal curvature – and there is no harm in working to reduce the curve, whether it progresses or not.

MYTH #3: Scoliosis Stops Progressing in Adulthood and Treatment is Optional

Scoliosis has long been associated with the growth spurt that occurs between infancy, childhood, and adolescence. However, it often will progress in adulthood – and the bigger the existing curve, the more likely it is to progress (source: Scoliosis Clinic UK).

As we mentioned above, ligaments in the spine can weaken as we age. This causes the spine to lose stability, leading spinal deformity to worsen and potentially tampering with normal body development and height. According to the National Scoliosis Foundation, the condition can also cause patients to experience symptoms of headache, chronic back pain and, in severe cases, difficulty breathing or other chronic diseases with increased rigidity present in the body (source: Scoliosis Reduction Center).

That said, it’s imperative that the proper treatment is given by a spinal specialist at the onset of symptoms – and that patients stay the course with treatment as recommended.

MYTH #4: Scoliosis = No Sports or Physical Education

Many students and parents worry that physical education or playing certain sports can worse scoliosis. We’re happy to report that’s another common myth.

Just as sports and exercise don’t cause scoliosis, they don’t worsen it. In fact, it’s always recommended to remain fit, healthy, and happy! Sports and exercise can help keep the back and surrounding muscles strong, as well as improve balance. However, it is recommended to check with your specialist regarding which activites are safest following a treatment.

MYTH #5: Women with Scoliosis Are Unable to Have Children or Have Trouble Giving Birth

Say it with us: Scoliosis doesn’t worsen or cause issues while pregnant, nor does it make it harder to conceive. It does not diminish fertility in any way.

That said, it is suggested that a pregnant patient with scoliosis makes their obstetrician or midwife aware of the condition to ensure comfort during pregnancy and delivery. Should someone with scoliosis need an epidural, the anesthetist will want to know in advance (source: Dr. Benjamin Cohen).

MYTH #6: Spinal Manipulation Treats Scoliosis

Some patients with scoliosis claim chiropractic spinal manipulations provide ease of aches and pains, as well as improved spinal mobility. However, spinal manipulations have not been proven to treat scoliosis. The same can be said of general exercise and massage – while physiotherapy may help with mobility and posture, it doesn’t reduce the size of, or slow down the worsening of, a scoliotic curve. Patients must seek scoliosis-specific treatments for long-lasting results.

MYTH #7: Surgery is the Only Treatment for Scoliosis

While surgery is an option for stabilizing the spine, it is not the only one. Scoliotic bracing, particularly when done during adolescence, can help reduce the worsening of a spinal curvature and thus, prevent worsening symptoms of scoliosis in adulthood.

Some scoliosis-specific exercises have also been clinically indicated as effective in treating scoliosis (source: Scoliosis Clinic UK). A spinal doctor will help determine the best course of treatment for a patient. Once again, the key is to begin scoliosis treatment at the onset of symptoms – and remain consistent with spinal checks.

MYTH #8: Spinal Surgery is Very Dangerous

Just because you have scoliosis does not mean you will have an operation. However, if surgery is recommended by your specialist (likely if the curve of your spine is large or growing quickly), take a deep breath: you’re in good hands.

There are a lot of fears surrounding spinal surgery. The important thing to remember is spinal surgery is not only common, but our specialty here at FSA. Of course, every surgery has its own risks, and if a doctor feels the risks are too great, surgery won’t be recommended.

Modern, minimally invasive surgeries are also an option to correct spinal deformities. We are happy to discuss all courses of action with our patients.

As for post-surgery concerns, most patients will be able to return to the sports and recreational activities they love after recovering from surgery – they just need to wait for the “all clear” from their specialist.

To learn more about offered treatment plans, book an appointment with the experts at Florida Spine Associates today.