Good spine health is an important part of having a healthy back and while x-ray and MRI machines aren't typical home medical equipment, there are other ways to determine if your spine is struggling to be healthy. In some conditions you can tell if the spine is deformed simply by looking at it. Rather than having a degenerative spinal condition, problems such as scoliosis are quite visible.

When viewed from the front a healthy spine appears straight, but a spine deformed from scoliosis will have a distinct sideways curve to it.

Understanding Scoliosis

Typically occurring in adolescents, scoliosis often appears prior to a pre-pubescent growth spurt. It is estimated that around three percent of 16 year olds in the United States suffer from some form of scoliosis. Most instances of scoliosis have no known cause. In fact, approximately 65% of cases are idiopathic, or unknown.

The remaining 35% of scoliosis cases arise from illnesses such as muscular dystrophy, spina bifida or cerebral palsy, while a small percentage are congenital. For some unknown reason, adolescent females are diagnosed with scoliosis at a much higher rate than young males.

What Causes Scoliosis?

Since some types of scoliosis involve hereditary deformities and disorders, genetics does play a small role in determining who is at risk for developing scoliosis. Neuromuscular conditions are more often than not inherited from either one or both parents. But because one parent (or both) has muscular dystrophy for instance, does not mean the offspring will develop scoliosis.

Developmental birth defects can also cause the spine to curve unnaturally. For example a developmental defect of the spinal bones may cause it to have that distinct sideways curvature. Congenital scoliosis is often due to a malformation of the spine during the developmental phase in utero.

The degenerative form of scoliosis can occur over time, usually due to an infection or injury to the spine. How much this deteriorates depends on when a diagnosis is given and when treatment begins.

Symptoms of Scoliosis

Even though symptoms of scoliosis, unlike other forms of back pain, are highly visible, you should not assume that you have scoliosis based on a few symptoms. If you have several of the following symptoms, make an appointment with your physician for a complete diagnostic workup:

  • Uneven lengths of the leg, hips or arms
  • Uneven shoulders (one higher than the other)
  • One shoulder blade is more prominent than the other
  • Slow nerve action
  • Lung capacity is diminishing
  • Pressure on the heart

Diagnosis & Treatment

One of the most important aspects of getting an accurate scoliosis diagnosis is documenting your medical history. It is important that you provide your physician with as much information as possible as it will help when it comes to creating an effective treatment plan.

The next diagnostic step is a physical exam that will determine if you are suffering from any numbness, abnormal or diminished reflexes and weakened muscles. Range of motion will be tested as well as the patient's gait, which may be affected by a spinal abnormality. The Adams forward bend test will be used for a close up external view of the spine. The outcome of this test will determine what type of imaging will help with your diagnosis.

A variety of imaging tests may be used so the physician can see just how severe the curvature of the spine is, as well as any underlying condition that may be responsible for the curving of the spine. MRIs, CT scans, x-rays and bone scans will allow the most accurate diagnosis.

Treatment for scoliosis is based on the severity of the spinal curvature, but there are 3 main forms of treatment: pain medicine, braces and surgery. For most children with scoliosis surgery will not be necessary, at least until the child has completed puberty and their bones are no longer growing.

Regular checkups will be required to continue to monitor the progress of the spine, but an early diagnosis will allow the least intrusive treatments. Surgery to treat scoliosis is not ideal because only curvature greater than forty degrees warrant such measures.

Before surgery is even considered, alternative measures such as electrical muscle stimulation and chiropractic guidance should be considered and attempted.

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