Have you or someone in your family recently been diagnosed with scoliosis? Or do you suspect somebody you know has the condition? That is when we usually start googling to learn all we can about it, and look for information on non invasive scoliosis treatment alternatives. Well, you have reached the right page, because that is exactly what we are going to discuss in this article.
Non Invasive Scoliosis Treatment Alternatives
What is Scoliosis?
Scoliosis is quite simply a lateral curvature in the area of the spine that is normally straight. If viewed from the side, you would observe a slight roundness in the upper back and a degree of inward curvature in the lower back. The difference between a person with a normal spine versus a person suffering from scoliosis, is the former appears to have a straight spine whereas the latter appears to be curved, when viewed from the front or back.
What are the Causes of Scoliosis?
There are a number of causes of scoliosis:
A person may be born with scoliosis, caused by a bone abnormality (congenital) or as a result of abnormal muscles or nerves (e.g. cerebral palsy or spina bifida (myelomeninogcele).
Idiopathic scoliosis is the most common cause, believed to be inherited but it has no specific identifiable cause (hence the term ‘idiopathic’).
Other causes may be degenerative, caused by trauma (illness, back surgery or other injury), or osteoporosis.
Who Can Get Scoliosis?
2% to 3% of the population at age 16 have scoliosis which is a relatively high percentage, although less than 0.1% have spinal curves measuring greater than 40 degrees, which is the point at which surgery becomes a consideration. Most people have mild scoliosis and do not need any treatment. Girls are more likely to be affected than boys.
Idiopathic scoliosis is most commonly a condition of adolescence affecting those ages 10 through 16. Idiopathic scoliosis typically progresses during the “growth spurt” years, but will not normally progress during adulthood.
Degenerative scoliosis could happen to anyone since it is caused by illness, back surgery or other injury. If due to osteoporosis, this is normally found in the elderly.
How is Scoliosis Diagnosed?
Most scoliosis curves are initially detected on school screening exams, by a child’s paediatrician or GP, or by a parent. Some clues that a child may have scoliosis include:
- a visibly curved spine
- one shoulder being higher than the other
- one shoulder or hip being more prominent than the other
- clothes not hanging properly
- a prominent rib-cage
- a difference in leg lengths
The diagnosis of scoliosis and the determination of the type of scoliosis are then made by a careful bone exam and an X-ray to evaluate the magnitude and degree of the curve.
Monitoring Scoliosis Post-Diagnosis
It is very important to seek medical advice upon realising the child or adult is suffering from scoliosis. As mentioned above, in 90% of scoliosis cases, scoliotic curves are mild and do not require treatment. In growing adolescents, it is very important for curves to be monitored for change by periodic examination and x-rays, as needed. Increases in spinal deformity will require treatment intervention. A majority of adolescents with significant scoliosis with no known cause are observed at regular intervals (usually every 4-6 months), including a physical exam and an X-ray to monitor any changes in the degree of curvature.
What Factors Determine the Treatment for Scoliosis?
- The patient’s age
- The bone age (the maturation of bone is not necessarily the same as the patient’s chronological age)
- The degree of curvature
- The location of curve in the spine
- The status of menses/puberty
- The patient’s gender
- Any curve worsening
- Associated symptoms such as back pain or shortness of breath
Non-invasive Treatments for Scoliosis
‘Conservative treatment’ is the commonly used term to describe the various types of non-surgical treatments. Since almost all people with spine-related problems do not require surgery, conservative treatments play a major role in dealing with spinal disorders. However, there is a wide selection of conservative treatments available, and sometimes it can be very difficult to make sense of all the choices.
It is very important to consider the appropriate conservative treatment for your spine, and this section is specifically designed to provide you with a review of how different health-care professionals, including osteopaths, chiropractors, and physiotherapists, approach spinal disorders. This information will aid you to make a decision of the type of professional who might be able to help you, and with whom you may want to consult.
Conservative treatment should be the first option in order to reduce pain. The most common form of treatment is physical therapy. Physical therapy affords a wide range of treatments for back problems. Physical therapy treatments have four main goals, to:
- Relieve pain
- Accelerate natural healing processes
- Increase strength and flexibility of back muscles and ligaments
- Help prevent future episodes of back pain
The types of treatment used by the professionals will depend on the nature of the condition being treated. Some treatments have not been scientifically proven, but can still be helpful in certain individuals. These treatments include:
- Back education. By teaching the correct posture and lifting techniques as part of a holistic back care programme, people will adapt and adopt the right attitudes about the body and its functional use.
- Braces. Braces are often used in adolescents presenting a spinal curve between 25-40 degrees, especially if they have at least 2+ years of growth left, in an attempt to halt curve progression. There is a chance it will afford a temporary correction, but it is more than likely that the curve will assume its original magnitude when the treatment ends.
- Electrical nerve stimulation. This includes transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), in which electrodes are placed on the back to gently stimulate nerves and helps alleviate pain. TENS appears to be helpful for some people with spinal stenosis, but has not otherwise been found to be generally helpful. An alternative version delivers the electrical stimulation through acupuncture needles. Treatment generally consists of 45 minute sessions, three times a day. Most people hardly feel the electrical sensation.
- Flexibility and strengthening exercise programs. These types of programs are important for keeping the lower back muscles flexible and strong. They are among the main safeguards for preventing future back injuries. It is important to begin slowly and progress as tolerated, using pain as your guide. The old adage “no pain, no gain” is definitely not the rule of thumb for the recovery of back pain.
- Heat. Heat is normally applied when there is a small area of tissue damage or inflammation. Electrical currents can be used to relieve pain and also to stimulate circulation in the deeper tissues.
- Hydrotherapy. Hydrotherapy involves the use of water (hydro) and includes baths, spas, pools, or shower sprays over the affected area, to treat physical conditions.
- Tissue mobilization and massage techniques. Massage and a variety of other soft tissue mobilization techniques are preferred by therapists who specialize in manual therapy. These techniques increase circulation to the area, release muscle spasms, and stretch back tissues.
- Traction Devices. Traction, or spinal stretching, equipment has been used to help decrease pressure on the nerve roots and provide a stretch to tight muscles in the back. Spinal traction has been well recognized since ancient times as an effective treatment for various spinal disorders. Traction can be performed in 2D (traction tables), or 3D for a rapid rehabilitation, using the Vertetrac together with the Dynamic Brace System (DBS) Scoliosis Rail where patients are mobile during treatment.
What Factors Influence the Recommendation for Surgery?
- Area of the spine involved
- Severity of the scoliosis
- Presence of increased or decreased kyphosis
- Pain (rare in adolescents, more common in adults)
- Growth remaining
- Personal factors
Invasive Treatments for Scoliosis
All efforts to correct scoliosis non-invasively, using conservative treatments, should be investigated before resorting to surgery, due to the inherent risks of complications, if the curve is up to 40 degrees.Patients with curves of 40 degrees to 50 degrees or above are often considered for scoliosis surgery. The goal is to make sure the curve does not get worse, but surgery is highly unlikely to straighten the spine perfectly. During the procedure, metallic implants are utilized to correct some of the curvature and hold it in the correct position until a bone graft, placed at the time of surgery, consolidates and creates a rigid spinal fusion in the area of the curve. This means joining the vertebrae together permanently.In young children, a technique that does not involve spinal fusion may need to be used because fusion stops growth of the fused part of the spine. In these cases, a brace must always be worn post-surgery, until the child stops growing.
Questions to Ask the Surgeon
- What are the risks inherent in this type of surgery?
- What will the surgery involve exactly?
- How many spinal surgeries has this particular surgeon performed and what is the incidence of complications?
- Who will be on the team?
- Is this a teaching hospital and if so, will anyone other than the designated surgeon be performing the surgery?
- If the surgery is for a child, is a neurosurgeon part of the operating team?
- How long will the surgery last?
- Will there be in a lot of pain? What medication is given to help with the pain?
- Should I or someone else donate blood? Will I need a transfusion?
- How long will the patient be in hospital? If surgery is for a child or adolescent, are there parent facilities?
- What kind of physical limitations will I have post-op?
- If the patient does not have the op, what kind of physical limitations will I suffer as a consequence?
- Will the patient need to wear a brace after surgery?
- Will the patient require physical therapy? If so, for how long?
- How soon after surgery can the patient shower or wash their hair?
- How long before return to school or work?
- How long before the patient can be active again (i.e., play sports)?
- Will surgery limit flexibility (e.g., bending over, ability to walk, range of motion?). If so, for how long?
- Which is preferable? Allograft bone or own bone harvested?
- If spinal fusion or implants is part of the op, will the patient need to take antibiotics before dental work?
- Will the metal detectors go off in airport security if rods are placed in my spine?
- Will more than one surgery be required?
- Who can I speak with or what can I read to better prepare for surgery?
- What pre-op testing is needed before surgery?
What Happens if I Opt to do Nothing?
Two factors can strongly predict whether a scoliosis curve will get worse: young age and a larger curve at the time of diagnosis. Children younger than 10 years with curves greater than about 35 degrees tend to get worse without treatment.
Once the child reaches adulthood and has stopped growing, it is very rare for a curve to progress rapidly. It is well documented that once a patient is fully grown, scoliosis less than 30 degrees tends not to get worse, while those with curves greater than 50 degrees can get worse over time, by about 1 to 1.5 degrees per annum.
Dental Work & Spinal Implants/Fusion
Patients with a history of spinal surgery with implants (fusion, disk replacement, stabilization with metallic or plastic hardware) may be advised by their consultant to be pre-treated with an antibiotic if dental work is needed within 24 months of surgery. Consultants typically recommend avoiding routine dental procedures for the first 3 months following a spinal fusion. For 24 months after surgery, they may suggest antibiotic therapy. After 24 months, no antibiotics are usually necessary. Ask your consultancy for advice on this topic.