All spines have natural curves. Scoliosis, however, is a progressive, abnormal sideways curvature of the spine. When left untreated, it can cause severe spinal deformity. Usually it is first detected in childhood or the early teen years while the bones of the spine are still growing.

Because the spine and rib cage are connected, severe scoliosis also affects the position of the ribs, pushing them further apart on the outside of the curve, and closer together on the inside. This causes the spine's "S" curve appearance typical of scoliosis. Pressure from severe spinal distortion can also affect surrounding organs. Health risks from severe spine curvature include neurological problems from pressure on nerves, arthritis, and even lung and heart problems.

Severe scoliosis not only harms the individual's appearance and self-esteem, but it can also compromise one's health and ability to function. The ability to participate in sports or athletic activities is usually limited and difficult. And limited physical activity can lead to a decrease in overall fitness.

What Causes It?
Because scoliosis tends to run in families, doctors believe that hereditary factors may predispose some individuals to this condition. In other cases, it can be caused by spinal abnormalities present at birth.

Often, the body's attempt to adapt to some type of trauma or injury is involved. Even birth trauma or minor childhood injuries, such as falling off a bicycle may trigger this abnormal spinal curvature. Therefore many parents prefer to have their children checked by a chiropractic doctor at birth, and regularly throughout childhood.

Scoliosis usually starts with problems in the lower back. In younger children, such complaints are often dismissed as "growing pains," unfortunately delaying treatment.

Scoliosis also can be associated with certain neuromuscular disorders such as polio, cerebral palsy, and muscular dystrophy. While there are many different causes for scoliosis, in 70 to 80% of cases there is no identifiable cause. Doctors call this "idiopathic" scoliosis.

Scoliosis is more common in females than males by almost 7 to 1. It continues to progress into the early 20's when the bones of the spine are fully mature. And if scoliosis progresses beyond a certain degree of curvature during adolescence, it will continue to become increasingly severe in adulthood. That is why early screening, detection, and treatment can make a big difference.

Children should be examined before age 12 or 13, especially if there is a history of any spinal deformity in your family. They should then be followed closely throughout the teen years to make sure a curve doesn't develop.

How is Scoliosis Diagnosed?
Because early detection is so important, preliminary screening is often done in public schools beginning around the 5th grade. This should be repeated every 6 to 9 months until skeletal maturity is reached. Find out how often your child's school screens for scoliosis.

Visual signs of scoliosis include uneven shoulder heights, loss of structural balance, or a change in posture. When an abnormal curvature is found, the child is referred to her family health care professional for more extensive testing.

After a visual assessment, your chiropractor will order x-rays of back and side views of the spine. Bending and stretching positions may also be x-rayed. The involved vertebrae, the direction of curve, and vertebral rotation are all recorded.

It is important to accurately establish the degree and severity of curvature as a benchmark for future comparison. Also, the child's spinal maturity is measured. Your chiropractor's goal is to discover the scoliosis while the individual is still young. When started on an exercise and chiropractic therapy program early enough, it is possible to slow or even stop the progress of the curvature.

How is Scoliosis Treated?
Unfortunately, in medical management, the most common approach usually is to "wait and see." While some cases may progress slowly, in others the curves may progress dramatically, creating significant physical deformity. When the problem becomes severe enough, unsightly braces or even surgery is standard treatment.

The chiropractic approach is to use specific spinal adjustments along with a program of corrective exercises. Usually the doctor's hands or a special instrument is used to apply precisely directed force to the spine to return the vertebrae to a more normal position. This force is adjusted according to the patient's age and size.

With careful monitoring, regular treatment, and exercise the spinal deformity of scoliosis can be minimized and more invasive procedures avoided.

What Can I Expect In The Future
With early detection and early treatment, chiropractic doctors have seen excellent results with scoliosis cases. This safe, natural approach to treatment has helped many children find a healthier, happier life.

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