Although it can affect both girls and boys of any age, scoliosis is usually diagnosed around the time of puberty and is much more common in girls. It’s not rare, but despite this it might not be on your radar. How much do you actually know about the condition, huh?
Well first off, scoliosis isn’t a disease or something that can be caught. It’s when the spine curves into an “s”, “c” or “?” shape, rather than growing straight.
And there are a few different types of scoliosis. It can be there at birth, a curve can appear in young children at anytime between the ages of 0-10, or the growth spurt around the age of puberty can cause what’s called “adolescent idiopathic scoliosis” (AIS). The word “idiopathic” means there is no specific reason why this happens.
Other types of scoliosis can occur because of a condition like cerebral palsy, spina bifida and Scheuermann’s kyphosis.
So, what are the symptoms of scoliosis?
There are a few telltale signs of scoliosis. These include one shoulder blade sitting higher than the other, or sticking out more than the other, uneven hips, a rotating or twisted spine, clothes not fitting well, back pain and sometimes problems with breathing.
Is it common?
Yes actually, it’s waaay more common than you’d think. In fact there are plenty of celebs that have spoken out about their experience of scoliosis with the aim of throwing a spotlight on this condition and raising awareness. Madonna’s daughter Lourdes Leon was diagnosed with scoliosis when she was 12, Descendants and The Fault In Our Stars actress Shailene Woodley wore a back brace for two years to treat her scoliosis, and Victoria’s Secret model Martha Hunt uses her fame to talk openly about life with the condition, in a bid to help other girls.
The most surprising scoliosis sufferer though is the fastest man in the world – Usain Bolt. He’s certainly not let the scoliosis slow him down and has spoken out about the importance of exercising to develop a strong back and core when you have the condition. He said in an interview, “When I was younger it wasn’t really a problem. But you grow and it gets worse. My spine’s really curved bad but if I keep my core and back strong, the scoliosis doesn’t really bother me. So I don’t have to worry about it as long as I work hard.”
How is it diagnosed?
The Scoliosis Association (UK) say that along with recognising the above symptoms, your doctor might do the forward bend test if they think you have scoliosis. This is where you bend forward from the waist, keeping your legs and arms straight and the doctor takes a good look at the back and shoulder area from behind. If scoliosis is present, a clear bulge on one side of the back where the ribs are will be visible.
How is it treated?
If your doctor spots scoliosis, they’ll refer you to a scoliosis specialist for treatment. An X-ray will determine if the curve has developed for no reason or if there are other problems with the small bones that make up the spine.
The types of treatment offered can differ from teenager to teenager, depending on the severity of condition so far. A “watch and wait” approach might be taken, with close monitoring every six months to check the curve isn’t getting worse, or a brace might be used to correct the curve over time while the body is still growing. With this option a lightweight, plastic brace will be fitted to the body to be worn either full-time, or a specified amount of hours during the day.
If the condition develops quickly, surgery might be recommended to correct the curve. Surgery for AIS is called spinal fusion. The Scoliosis Association explains that, “spinal fusion uses metal implants (screws, wires, and/or hooks) that are attached to the vertebrae in your spine and then connected to a single rod or to two rods. During the operation bone graft is placed over the implants. These implants and rods are used to hold the spine in place until it can fuse itself. Over a period of about 12 months, this bone graft grows together with the existing bone in your spine and forms a solid column of bone in that area.” It sounds scary, but it’s a common operation and once recovered, you’re able to return to sport and activities as usual.
Where can I find out more about scoliosis?
The Scoliosis Association has tons of useful information on the condition. They can also offer support if you’ve just been diagnosed and put you in touch with other people in a similar situation to you.
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