Scoliosis refers to a medical condition whereby an individual has a spine with an abnormal lateral/ sideways curvature which normally results in pain and reduced flexibility. Ordinarily, the human spine has three curves but in a forward-backward orientation. It curves forward in the neck and lower back (lordosis), and curves backward in the chest region (kyphosis). However, when viewed from the front or back, a healthy spine should appear straight unlike in scoliosis whereby it curves to the side. This condition affects approximately 4% of the world population, which translates to at least 1 in 25 people. The most common age of onset is between 10 and 15 years, affecting females more than males.
There are many possible causes of scoliosis. The primary cause in most patients is usually idiopathic (unknown), meaning that the exact cause is not known. This accounts for most of the cases observed in the 10-15 year (adolescent) age bracket during the growth spurt that occurs during puberty. Other causes may be congenital/ inborn in which there are defects during development, whereby the spinal bones (vertebrae) do not form or separate appropriately. This type often presents with other abnormalities in the kidney or heart. Another cause of scoliosis is conditions that affect the nerves and muscles (neuromuscular), particularly those associated with the spine. The condition may also arise from wear and tear affecting the discs and joints of the spine (degenerative).This variety is the most common among adults.
The patients present with a variety of symptoms which are easily detectable, since the individual leans toward one side on standing. This means that when their hands are left to hang loosely on the sides, a larger space is observed between the arm and the body on one side. The head usually seems off-center and misaligned in relation to the pelvis (hip bone), and one shoulder (along with the scapula- shoulder blade) is higher or more prominent therefore shirts do not seem to fit correctly. There may be nerve impingement in the spine resulting in numbness, weakness and loss of muscle coordination in the legs and feet causing difficulty in walking. These symptoms are initially subtle but if unattended to over time, patients may have grave complications including breathing difficulties and persistent back pain among others.
If you suspect someone might be suffering from scoliosis, it is advisable to seek medical assistance so that a diagnosis is made and treatment initiated right away. The condition is confirmed by conducting a physical examination and imaging tests such as X-Rays, MRIs or CT Scans. The severity is determined by the number of degrees of the curve on the spine, which is measured by the doctor. This will inform the modality of treatment. Doctors recommend the use of a brace if the patient is still growing and the curve is between 20-40º, so as to stop it from increasing until the growth spurt is over. Another option is surgery to correct the condition, particularly for cases in which the curvature is greater than 40º and interferes with heart and lung function. Physical therapy is done as well to improve flexibility while pain medication is also administered.
There is a need to educate and raise positive public awareness about scoliosis, highlighting the importance of early detection and prompt treatment of the condition as well as providing mental support and care to the affected individuals. This will reduce the stigma towards them and make life more bearable. The campaign could also lobby charity organizations to offer assistance to the individuals unable to afford treatment, thereby reducing the incidence of complications.