What is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature in the spine. It can appear as a C-shaped curve or an S-shaped curve in the spine. It may develop secondary to a range of developmental, neurological, muscular and bone disorders.

In the majority of cases, the exact cause of the scoliosis is unknown (this is referred to as an idiopathic scoliosis).

No single factor has been identified as being responsible for idiopathic scoliosis development. For most patients, the cosmetic appearance of such a curve is the primary concern with this condition as it does not give rise to any symptoms. 

Idiopathic Scoliosis

The three primary characteristics that are utilised to predict the tendency for scoliosis to get worse with time are as follows:

  • The severity of the curve
  • The location of the apex
  • The skeletal maturity (level of growth) of the child.

The level of skeletal maturity can be measured using an x-ray. Here they can look at the degree of bony maturity and measure the degree of fusion of the growth plates on the end of the bone. This is known as the Risser sign. When the individual is close to full bony maturity then there is a significantly reduced potential for progression of the spinal curve.

Scoliosis Management by back pain specialist Naas Physio Clinic.

Congenital Scoliosis

A congenital scoliosis is where the baby is born with a spinal curve; however, it does not appear to be genetic. It usually occurs due to failure of the spinal bones to form properly. The level of curve progression will vary significantly between cases. Twenty percent of patients with congenital scoliosis will also suffer from genital & urinary tract abnormalities. Heart defects are also common.

Scoliosis can be categorised as follows according to the age of the individual at onset:

  • Infantile: Manifests from birth to age 3.
  • Juvenile: Developing between 4-9 years of age.
  • Adolescent: Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis is directly linked to adolescent spinal growth spurt which commences around the age of 11 onwards and affects 3% of the population worldwide (Hayes et al 2014). It normally ceases at the end of the growth phase.

What causes Scoliosis?

A genetic link has been proposed for scoliosis as it’s presence among relatives has been demonstrated in certain individuals (Czeizel et al. 1978). It has been shown that curves greater than 30 degrees are more likely to progress than smaller curves (Bunnell 1988). Scoliosis is also 8 times more common in females than males.

It is important to determine whether a curve is structural or functional in nature. Functional curves will increase or decrease with changes in posture. Functional curves occur secondary to compensation for muscle imbalance or biomechanical factors & are therefore far less serious than a structural. Structural curves on the other hand are present due to changes in bony alignment

Management of Scoliosis

Recognising the presence of scoliosis as early as possible is key in its long-term management. Most cases of congenital scoliosis will require an orthopaedic evaluation. Idiopathic forms can be managed as long as it has not exceeded a certain angle of curvature and once it is not progressive in nature.

X-ray analysis of curve angle may be carried out every 3-4 months in cases where progression is suspected. The Society of Scoliosis Orthopaedic Rehabilitation and Treatment guidelines recommend physiotherapeutic scoliosis specific exercises (PSSE) as a key component of overall management of scoliiosis management.

Surgical Options

The aim of surgery is straighten the spinal curve as much as possible & to stabilise the spine. Traditionally, Harrington rods, which are stainless steel rods, were inserted next to the spinal column to provide stability. These rods have been adapted over the years to include the use of wiring to increase stability.

Bracing Management

In a well recognised research study, known as the BRAIST Study, several medical centres joined together to perform a randomised controlled trial to investigate whether bracing was effective in managing scoliosis in adolescents (Weinstein et al. 2013). They wanted to determine the factors that determined successful outcome from the use of a brace.

The findings reported that when bracing therapy was applied correctly with patients who are at a high risk of requiring surgery, 72% of brace wearers could avoid surgery, compared to only 48% of patients in the observation group.

One of the primary findings was that the degree of compliance was vital and that as brace wear time increased, so did the success rate.

Ref: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1307337


For further information on treatment of scoliosis go to: https://www.physioclinic.ie/chiropractor-naas/