Scoliosis: More Than Chronic Back Pain

Scoliosis is an abnormal condition affecting the spine. It causes pain and deformity to roughly 3% of the population, but can be relieved through treatment.

Scoliosis is a medical term for an abnormality of the spine, in which the spine curves sideways or twists, forming the shape of the letter C or the letter S. A doctor decides how severe each case of scoliosis is by measuring the degree of the curve. A nineteen degree curve, like mine, is borderline, and those who have it may or may not undergo treatment through the use of a brace. Scoliosis may be present if one side of the rib cage is pushed outward and the other side is compressed, the spine has a simple side-to-side curve, there is a hump on the back, or the back is swayed. Scoliosis effects approximately 3% of the population.

Some medical conditions and diseases, such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and polio, have been known to cause scoliosis. However, in roughly 85% of all reported cases of scoliosis the cause remains unknown. It is believed that poor posture is not a cause of scoliosis, rather an effect. Girls are diagnosed with scoliosis four times as often as boys, and there is evidence that this condition is hereditary, as it usually shows up in multiple family members. For example, in my family not only do I have scoliosis, so does my mother, my sister, two of my maternal aunts, and my maternal grandmother. In fact, if someone in your family has scoliosis, your chances are increased by 20%.

In the best of scenarios, scoliosis should be diagnosed early so that treatment may begin before the scoliosis progresses, as the condition can cause deformity, and even take years off the sufferer's life. It can also lead to chronic severe back pain and contribute to breathing difficulties. Most schools screen children for signs of scoliosis between sixth and eighth grade. Scoliosis usually occurs before and during growth spurts associated with adolescence, although it does, on rare occasions, show up as a birth defect.

Since early diagnosis is so important in order to keep the condition from getting worse, parents should learn to screen their children for it before and during the onset of puberty. Some of the warning signs to look for are (a) uneven shoulders,(b) prominent shoulder blade or shoulder blades,(c) an uneven waist, (d) one hip being higher than the other,(e) leaning to one side,(f)a tilted head,(g) or an uneven rib cage. If a parent then believes that their child has scoliosis, they should take them to their family physician for a diagnosis. Also, if someone in a family is diagnosed with scoliosis, other family members, especially women and children, should be screened as well. There is no cure for scoliosis, but early treatment can halt the progression of the condition, and a plan can be developed to strengthen the back muscles to prevent injury.

There are many ways to relieve the back pain associated with scoliosis. Exercise is one of the best ways to do so (remember to consult your physician before beginning any exercise program). In fact, exercising the torso in order to build muscle strength is very important, as it helps prevent what is commonly referred to as "throwing your back out". It is especially important for people wearing a brace as part of their scoliosis treatment, as toned muscles make the transition period after the brace is removed much easier. Some studies have even shown that people with scoliosis who exercised regularly had better flexibility and less spinal twisting and curvature than those who did not observe an exercise regimen. It has been shown that exercise also helped with breathing and the resilience of the spine.

You should take several precautions when exercising. You should always stretch thoroughly before exercising in order to "warm up" your muscles. Don't overdo any exercises, especially in the beginning. You should also start each exercise slowly and carefully. If, during exercise, you experience any pain or discomfort that does not go away after 15 minutes, stop the exercise and call your doctor.

A great, simple exercise is one I learned from my obstetrician while carrying my son. It is called the cat stretch, and it helped tremendously with my own back pain.

1)Get down on the floor on your hands and knees. Both your hands and your knees should be shoulder width apart, and your neck should be relaxed with your head hanging down.

2)Arch your back downward, with your hips and shoulders up and your lower back and stomach down. Hold this position for 10 breaths.

3)Next, arch your lower back up, as a cat would while stretching or hissing, and hold for 10 breaths.

4)Repeat steps 2 and 3 several times.

There are also a number things you can do besides exercise to help relieve the pain associated with scoliosis. If you drive a lot, or are required to sit in a chair for long periods, invest in a good lumbar pillow. In a pinch, if you don't have access to a lumbar pillow, a rolled up towel placed behind your lower back will help. Stretching thoroughly every morning when you wake up can help prevent pulls and strains. You should learn the proper way to lift objects""with your legs, not your back. Do not bend over from your waist. Instead, bend your knees into a squatting position. Use caution when reaching over your head, and climbing stairs or ladders. Do not stand for long periods, and try to never stand on a concrete floor without a rubber mat. You should also try to change position periodically, for sitting, lying, or standing for extended periods can stress muscles in your back that help support your spine.

Sleeping can bring special considerations for people diagnosed with scoliosis, especially since traditional beds are flat and the human back is not. Lying flat on your back with your knees bent and a firm pillow placed beneath them can help alleviate back pain. If you prefer to lie on your side, place a pillow between your knees. There are special, cylindrical pillows for your neck that may be purchased to ensure that every morning is pain free, as well.

Scoliosis, although a common and sometimes painful condition, does not have to ruin your quality of life. Educate yourself, talk to your physician, exercise regularly, and take the proper precautions so that, by supporting your back, your back can support you for years to come.

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