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Scoliosis

If your child has been diagnosed with scoliosis, or a recent screening suggest they may have scoliosis, the orthopedic specialists at Cook Children's are recognized for their excellent care of children with scoliosis and spine care.

What is scoliosis?

People with scoliosis have a side-to-side curve in the spine that can look like an "S" or a "C". In addition, some of the bones (vertebrae) in the back can rotate, making the spine twist.

Small curves usually don't cause problems. But a curve that gets worse can cause pain and health problems. Very large curves can damage the joints, causing back pain or arthritis of the spine. If the spine curves a lot, it might cause lung problems.

So what causes the spine to curve? The curves occur when the vertebrae (the small bones in the spine) form a curved line instead of being straight. Sometimes they also rotate (twist), like a corkscrew. This can cause health problems.

Although the spine is sometimes called the "backbone", it's not just one bone. The spine is made up of lots of small bones called vertebrae that are connected by a type of elastic tissue called cartilage. This gives people the flexibility to bend, stretch, balance, and even walk.

Straight Spine vs. Scoliosis

What Are the Types of Scoliosis?

Orthopedic specialists (doctors and other providers who treat bone and muscle problems) group scoliosis into types. Knowing the type of scoliosis helps health care providers treat it.

Idiopathic scoliosis. This is the most common type of scoliosis. Kids can get it at any age, but most of the time it happens around puberty when a child goes through a growth spurt. Experts don't know exactly why this type of scoliosis develops, but it runs in some families.

Congenital scoliosis. This type of scoliosis happens when something goes wrong with the way some of the vertebrae developed while a baby was in the womb. The problem might not be noticed until a child goes through a growth spurt, usually around age 2 or between 8 and 13.

Scoliosis caused by a medical condition. Some kids develop scoliosis because they have a long-term medical problem that affects the muscles or skeletal system. For example, kids with muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, Marfan syndrome, or osteogenesis imperfecta may get scoliosis. Kids who have had tumors or growths on their spine may also develop scoliosis.

What causes scoliosis?

In most children with scoliosis, the cause is unknown. The most commonly Identifiable causes include cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida and other birth defects that can affect the spine, and some spinal injuries and infections.

Scoliosis isn't caused by things like carrying a heavy backpack, bad posture, playing sports — or anything else kids might do.

Who gets scoliosis?

People of all ages can have scoliosis. The most common type has no known cause and occurs in children age 10 to 12 and in their early teens. Girls are more likely than boys to have this type of scoliosis. A child is more likely to have scoliosis if a parent, brother or sister have it.

How is scoliosis treated?

Small curves usually don't cause problems. But a curve that gets worse can be bad for a person's health. Very large curves can damage the joints and cause arthritis of the spine. Large curves can make the ribs rub against the pelvis, causing pain. Someone whose spine curves a lot might get lung problems.

If it looks like scoliosis could cause health problems, doctors will treat it with a back brace to prevent it from getting worse. In some cases, kids need surgery.

Back braces

There are several different types of braces. Because each child's curve is different, the orthopedic specialist will decide on the number of hours a child should wear a brace.

The brace acts as a holding device that keeps the curve from getting worse. A brace won't make the spine straight. But, if it does its job well, the curve won't get bigger.

Scoliosis care teams work with kids to choose the right brace. The right brace is the one that works best for the type of curve a child has. It's also the one a child is most likely to wear. Wearing a brace appropriately can prevent the need for surgery.

Surgery

Some kids with severe scoliosis need a type of surgery called a spinal fusion. During the operation, an orthopedic surgeon straightens the spine as much as possible and holds it in place with rods and screws. The surgeon then puts in a bone graft to join (fuse) some of the vertebrae together. That way, the curve can't get worse.

After about a year, the bones should be fully fused. While the metal rods are no longer needed, they stay in the back because they aren't doing any harm and taking them out requires another surgery.

We're here to help.

If your child has been diagnosed, you probably have lots of questions. We can help. If you would like to schedule an appointment, refer a patient or speak to our staff, please call our offices at 682-885-4405.

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