What to Do When Your Child Has a Spinal Deformity
By Chester H. Sharps, MD
While there are several types of spinal deformities, by far the most common one is scoliosis. Luckily, the vast majority of scoliosis cases do not require any kind of surgery. Instead, this spinal deformity brings the potential for a series of medical problems that need to be watched diligently to prevent any serious damage from occurring.
If you suspect your child may be developing a case of scoliosis, read on to find out more about this spinal deformity, how it is diagnosed, and what you can do to help your child today.
The Most Prevalent Spinal Deformity: Scoliosis Defined
Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine that is most common in adolescents. Sixty-five percent of scoliosis cases are due to unknown causes (also known as idiopathic scoliosis). Other cases of scoliosis are caused by abnormal vertebrae or abnormal muscles or nerves.
While scoliosis does not always cause significant pain or discomfort, common signs and symptoms of scoliosis include uneven hips, uneven muscles, or uneven shoulders, or a difference in the chest or breast area.
In some situations, it is best for children to see a doctor for an screening as soon as signs of uneven growth appear.
Other Types of Spinal Deformities
There are three main other types of spinal deformity. These are round-back (kyphosis), stress fracture of the spine (spondylolisthesis), and one spine part being slipped more forward than another part of spine (spondylolisthesis).
How to Diagnose Scoliosis
While many public school systems screen for scoliosis, it’s important that you monitor your child’s growth and be on the lookout for warning signs.
If you see or suspect anything to be abnormal, talk with your pediatrician to see if a referral to a pediatric orthopedic doctor is necessary. You may need to see a specialist who is experienced in the field of spinal deformity to truly understand what is happening with your child.
Treatment of a Spinal Deformity like Scoliosis
Depending on the type of scoliosis and the severity of the case, the treatment is usually non-operative. Treatment may involve special casting or bracing, or special exercises and therapy.
The most important thing is to monitor the deformity to see if it becomes a serious issue. In this case, it may be important to consider surgical options for larger or progressively worsening curves.
If surgery is needed, it will usually be a safe, routine procedure for your pediatric orthopedic surgeon. After surgery, your child’s doctor will work with them to help them quickly regain their regular level of activity. There are very few activities and sports they won’t be able to do participate in when the surgery is completed.
Left unchecked, a severe case of scoliosis could shorten life expectancy and affect heart and lung function. Fortunately, modern medicine and orthopedic practices significantly limit the impact of scoliosis.