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Can Scoliosis be Treated Without Surgery?

Lower back MRI scan with gloved physician's hand & pencil

If you or your child has scoliosis, you might assume that surgery to correct it will be needed. This may not always be the case, however.

In this blog, the team at Specialty Orthopaedics in Harrison, NY explain more about scoliosis, including whether it can be treated without surgery:

What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a disorder that causes your spine to have an abnormal curve. Normally, your spine has curves when you’re looking at it from the side, but it looks straight when viewed from the front. Scoliosis causes additional curves on either side of your body, forming a “C” or “S” shape.

What causes scoliosis?

In most cases, scoliosis has no known cause. In other cases, it can be classified into these types that are determined by their cause:

  • Functional – Scoliosis develops because of a problem somewhere other than the spine, such as having one leg that’s shorter than the other.
  • Neuromuscular – This type of scoliosis happens when the spinal bones form incorrectly, often by failing to separate or form completely. It can be associated with disorders such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy.
  • Degenerative – Degenerative scoliosis affects older adults and is caused by changes such as those related to arthritis or osteoporosis.

What are its symptoms?

Scoliosis doesn’t always cause symptoms, but it can make something in your body off-center, such as one shoulder that’s higher than the other. Depending on its severity, scoliosis can also cause shortness of breath, pain, and muscle spasms.

How is it diagnosed?

The abnormal curve of the spine that’s associated with scoliosis can occur very slowly, so you might miss it until it becomes more severe. It’s often discovered by a doctor who’s conducting a yearly exam or sports physical or noticed by a friend or family member. Scoliosis is diagnosed by a physical exam as well as imaging scans such as X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans.

How is it treated?

In some cases, scoliosis may not need treatment. The curvature will need to be monitored, however, with physical examinations and X-rays.

A doctor will also consider how likely the scoliosis is to worsen over time. Women are more likely to have scoliosis that gets worse over time, and the same is true of people who have large “S-shaped” curves. The position of the curve is also important. If it’s in the center of the spine, it’s more likely to get worse than if it’s located in the upper or lower part of the spine.
When scoliosis needs treatment, the following can be options:

  • Bracing – This is used for young patients whose bones are still growing and who have moderate scoliosis. They’re usually worn all day, but the most common type isn’t usually visible under clothing.
  • Exercises – Exercise and physical therapy can help realign the spine and its surrounding structures.
  • Surgery – If scoliosis worsens over time, spinal fusion surgery may be an option. This type of surgery to treat scoliosis uses bone grafts to fuse two or more vertebrae so that they grow solidly together. The bones can be held straight with hooks or screws as they heal. Your surgeon can also remove the intervertebral disc (the cushion between your vertebrae) and any bone spurs to help reduce pain.

If you think you might have scoliosis, make an appointment today for an evaluation with Specialty Orthopaedics in Harrison, NY. We’ll recommend the most effective, least invasive type of treatment that will help your condition as well as any symptoms such as pain.

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