It is estimated that some 6 million Americans have some form of scoliosis. Scoliosis is a lateral curvature of the spine, usually in an ‘S’ shape with the convex to the right in the upper back and to the left in the lower back. Most people have slight scoliotic curves as a result of slight structural abnormalities, trauma, or subluxation. These curves will straighten when that person bends forward or from side to side and are called “functional scoliosis”.
True or “structural scoliosis” is usually a more dramatic curvature which does not straighten with movements of the spine. This condition affects from 1-5% of children ages 10 to 16 (60-80% of which are female).
Scoliosis predisposes individuals to back pain, headache, and other posture-related disorders. In rare, severe cases, the curvature can lead to difficulty breathing or heart problems due to a lack of space from the deformed ribcage. A scoliosis is classified based on an angle measurement taken from a full spine x-ray.
Medical practitioners will typically not intervene until a curve has progressed beyond 20 degrees. Medical interventions include bracing and surgery. The effectiveness of bracing is in question and the debate is currently quite vigorous. Wearing a brace affects appearance, creating self-esteem issues and limits ability to participate in activities. Compliance of 23 hours a day tends to be low, and the effectiveness for scoliosis measuring 15-35 degrees has been shown to be minimal at best.
Surgery for scoliosis is a highly invasive procedure, which is usually only utilized for very rare cases which progress rapidly and inhibit organ function.
Chiropractic and Scoliosis
There is no practitioner more qualified to diagnose scoliosis than a chiropractor who evaluates spines and posture daily and utilizes full spine x-ray regularly. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that in-school scoliosis screenings were ineffective, and stressed that parents and health care practitioners should monitor youngsters for the condition. Medical treatment is limited and therefore waits for a scoliosis to progress (if it is going to) to the point of requiring bracing or surgery.
The chiropractic approach involves applying treatment during the mild scoliotic phase in an effort to avoid invasive approaches. The chiropractor evaluates for a number of potential causes such as leg length discrepancy, subluxation, upper neck mechanical problems, vertebral malformation, and others.
Chiropractic adjustments are highly effective in managing the common complaints associated with scoliosis. A study of 1000 young chiropractic patients found an improvement in curvature in 84%. After the age of 25, bone has completely calcified and any correction becomes more difficult, though symptom management is very effective. In those very rare cases of severe scoliosis, the chiropractor will refer out for the next appropriate step in care.
What should you do if you suspect you or your child has scoliosis?
Make an appointment in our office this month. We are currently doing complimentary scoliosis screenings and have a limited number of slots available in our screening schedule. If this is something you are concerned about, we strongly encourage you to make an appointment.
Many of the children we have seen have had tremendous results because they got here before it was too late. If we cannot help your child, we will tell you right away and send you to someone who can.
Journal of the American medical Association 1999 ;282:1427-32.
Betge G. Scoliosis Correction. Euro J Chiro 1985; 33:71-91.
Biederman H. Kinematic imbalances due to suboccipital strain in newborns. J manual Med 1992; 6:151-156.
Goldberg DJ, et al., A statistical comparison between natural history of idiopathic scoliosis and brace treatment in skeletally immature adolescent girls. Spine 1993; 18:902-908.
Anrig, Claudia, Plaugher, Gregory, Pediatric Chiropractic. Williams and Wilkins, 1998.
Lantz, CA, et al., The effect of chiropractic full-spine adjustments on adolescent idiopathic scoliosis with curves less than 20 degrees. Proceedings of the Int’l Conf on Spinal Manip. 1996;Oct:30-2.