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Have you ever woken up with your back aching, limiting the movement of your body throughout the day?
Well, the Oxford dictionary defines a disability as
“A physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities.”
Yes, that backache is currently disabling, but we both know it’s not a disability.
So, is scoliosis a disability?
Keep reading to find out!
- What is Scoliosis?
- Scoliosis in Children
- Scoliosis in Adults
- When is Scoliosis Surgery Necessary?
- Scoliosis Resources
- Final Thoughts
What is Scoliosis?
It’s where a person’s spine has an abnormal, sideways curve of 10 degrees or more.
And scoliosis is a pretty common medical condition that affects 2-3% of the US population.
That’s about 6 to 9 million people!
If you’re looking at someone who has it, depending on how severe it is, you may or may not even be able to tell.
Symptoms of Scoliosis
Some symptoms may be super obvious while some are more subtle and difficult to point out.
- A visibly curved spine
- Uneven shoulders
- Leaning the entire body to one side
- Uneven waist
- One hip higher than the other
- Ribs sticking out on one side
- Clothes not fitting right
Typical pain that comes with scoliosis includes:
- Neck Pain
- Shoulder Pain
- Hip Pain
If you think you may have scoliosis, you can do this simple test at home.
How to test:
- Take off shirt so the spine is visible
- Put your feet together
- Bend forward at the waist until your back is horizontal
- Put your palms together with your arms hanging down
If your shoulder blades slant, you should probably see your doctor.
Watch this video for a guided tutorial on how to perform the Adam’s test.
Mild to Severe Scoliosis
A spinal curve between 10 and 20 degrees is considered mild scoliosis.
It’s most common in premenstrual girls, but is also seen in boys and adults.
Mild scoliosis can go undiagnosed for years since the changes in posture are small.
Here are the subtle signs to look out for:
- Curve between 10-20 degrees
- May or may not experience pain
- Body tilts to one side
- Head tilt
- Uneven leg lengths
- One shoulder sits higher than the other
- One shoulder blade sticks out more than the other
- One hip appears higher than the other
- Head is pushed forward and ears aren’t aligned with the shoulders
According to some scoliosis experts, mild scoliosis has a 22% chance of progressing.
Once the curvature gets larger than 20 degrees, that risk jumps to 68%!
Teens in puberty may experience an extreme progression to their scoliosis because of hormonal changes and growth spurts.
If you suspect your child has scoliosis, don’t hesitate to take them to your doctor to get checked.
Your spine will curve the most. Severe scoliosis measures over 40 degrees.
Adolescents curve at 40-45 degrees, while adults curve in the range of 50-55 degrees.
It can be disabling. It could be difficult for your lungs to function properly and give you heart problems.
Some symptoms are:
- Being winded easily with physical activity
- Fatigued after sitting or standing for long periods of time
- Impaired respiratory function
Functional vs. Structural Scoliosis
In about 80% of scoliosis is idiopathic, which means the cause is unknown.
What experts have found is that this disorder tends to be hereditary. So, if one of your parents or grandparents have it, you may be at risk for it too.
There are two categories: functional and structural.
What’s the difference?
A fixed curve of your spine and considered more serious because it doesn’t straighten out on its own.
- The most common category
- Can’t be reversed without surgery
- Spinal rotation – a spinal movement in which you turn the spinal column around itself, usually favoring one side
- Side-to-side curvature of the spine
Common causes include:
- Cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy
- Birth defects affecting the development of the bones of the spine
- Injuries to or infections to the spine
- Down syndrome
- Marfan syndrome – a disorder of the connective tissue. People with marfan syndrome tend to be tall and thin, have long legs, arms, fingers and toes, and flexible joints.
Functional (Nonstructural) Scoliosis
Your spinal structure is normal and there is no spinal rotation.
- The spine works normally but looks curved
- A temporary change in spinal curvature
- Caused by an underlying problem
- Different leg lengths
- Muscle spasms
- Inflammatory conditions, like Appendicitis and Pneumonia
If you can figure out and fix what the underlying problem is, you can get rid of your scoliosis without any treatment!
The Americans with Disabilities Act defines disability as a person who:
- Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities
- Has a record of such an impairment, or
- is regarded as having such an impairment
According to disability experts at Disability Benefits Help, if you’ve been medically diagnosed with scoliosis and it’s bad enough that you are physically unable to work, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.
Note that scoliosis is a curvature of the spine that can range from mild to severe, and is not a disease.
Can I Prevent Scoliosis?
Despite what you may have heard, you can’t give yourself scoliosis.
Nor can you prevent it.
Maybe you’re concerned with your kids’ heavy backpacks they carry around at school.
This may give them back or neck pain, but it not scoliosis.
Bad posture is another one many people associate with this condition.
Again, it may cause pain or discomfort,but won’t give you scoliosis.
However, if you or your child already have scoliosis, you can prevent progression.
There are many daily exercises you can do to help with that.
Here’s an easy one:
- Stand up straight with a small weight (1lb~) in your left hand. Feet shoulder-width apart.
- Lean to the left side without bending your knees
- Hold for 3 seconds before coming back up
- Do 5 reps and repeat on the right side.
Easy, right? Increase the reps and the weight gradually as you get stronger.
We know that mild cases of scoliosis don’t usually need treatment.
So what happens if you or your child’s moderate to severe scoliosis goes untreated?
Treatment doesn’t need to be as severe as surgery and usually isn’t necessary anyway.
Here’s what to expect if you don’t treat your scoliosis:
- Spinal curve may increase
- Deformity may occur
- Increased pain
- Breathing problems with a more severe curve
Scoliosis in Children
Typically presents itself in adolescents but can start earlier in childhood and infancy.
Early detection in adolescents is crucial to reduce your child’s curve progression.
Paul Sponseller, M.D., a pediatric orthopaedic expert and director of the Johns Hopkins Division of Pediatric Orthopaedic Surgery says,
“If scoliosis can be diagnosed before the child has a growth spurt, the [physician] can determine a treatment plan that prevents a bigger curve from forming during times of growth.”
Infantile Idiopathic Scoliosis
Don’t be alarmed!
This is a rare form of scoliosis (accounts for less than 1% of idiopathic scoliosis) that affects children ages 3 and under.
- Most infants that develop abnormal curves do so in their first six months
- Children who develop scoliosis before the age of 5 are more likely to have cardiopulmonary abnormalities – a range of serious disorders that affect the heart and lungs
- Infants with idiopathic scoliosis don’t usually experience any pain from it
Most infants with this condition have a mild curve (10-25 degrees) that rarely gets worse and usually corrects itself.
Actually, about 80% of scoliosis in infants will resolve without treatment.
These cases only need to be treated with observation by:
- Regular visits to an orthopedic surgeon
- Physical exams and X-rays to watch the curve
Juvenile Idiopathic Scoliosis
Spinal curves diagnosed between ages 3-10 fall under this category.
Juvenile scoliosis only makes up about 1/5th of the cases but has the highest chance of getting worse.
Don’t let that scare you, there are simple solutions.
If your child’s curve is mild to moderate, bracing is usually suggested.
Bracing is a non-surgical treatment to prevent the curve from worsening and has fantastic results.
It’s usually suggested for kids with an angle of:
- at least 25 degrees in their spine and still growing
- less than 25 degrees but has gotten at least 5 degrees worse during the follow up appointments
The goal of bracing is to avoid a major surgery by stopping curve progression. More specifically, to prevent it from reaching 40 or 50 degrees at skeletal maturity
A study found that 75% of teens who wore a brace
“significantly decreased the progression of high-risk curves to the threshold for surgery.”
However, if the curve gets worse while they grow, they may need more aggressive treatment or surgery.
Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis
Diagnosed between the ages of 10-18 years old and makes up about 80% of the cases.
If your child is diagnosed with Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis (AIS), they’ll be assessed with:
- The Adams test, to help better understand the amount of torso asymmetry
- Ligament laxity (chronic body pain characterized by loose ligaments) for connective tissue disorders
- Neurological exam
- Imaging evaluation