One day your pediatrician notices a slight curvature in your child's spine. This childhood developmental condition, called scoliosis, occurs in two to four percent of the adolescent population. The doctor suggests careful monitoring of your child's back. Most children do fine with a minor curve in the spine, but ten percent of those children will need some kind of treatment to prevent health problems due to the curve. Here is why your child may be one of the few that require treatment, and the current trends in the treatment of scoliosis.
Why Treatment May Be Necessary
On an X-ray, this condition appears as a side-to-side curve of the spine in a characteristic S-shape. This causes the spine to develop shorter than a normally straight spine. The result is less space in the chest and abdomen for the other organs.
Children with a minor curve do fine with this spinal condition. But a severe curve can crowd the organs within their body, creating health problems. One of the common issues is less room for the lungs to expand, resulting in breathing difficulties. Orthopedic doctors that treat scoliosis are focused on preventing the spinal curve from becoming so severe as to cause health issues.
Deciding on the Type of Treatment
The treatment depends on the age at which your child was diagnosed with scoliosis and the current severity of the curve. A minor curve in an older adolescent will need little in the way of treatment since the rapid growth stage is almost over. A younger child with a more pronounced curve will need more aggressive treatment to prevent the curve from becoming worse.
Encouraging Growth of a Straight Spine
External braces are one way to encourage the spine to grow straight during the child's development. The brace must be worn continuously, coming off only to bathe the child. To be effective, your child will wear the brace until they reach puberty. After that, the brace can be left off more often, but should still be worn when possible to prevent a collapse of the spine into the S-shape. Two types of external braces are used to treat scoliosis:
- Underarm brace - This brace is effective for curves in the lower and middle parts of the spine. It extends from the hips to just under the arms. The brace puts slight pressure on the spine in the direction opposite the curve to force the spine to grow straighter.
- Full-torso brace - Also known as a Milwaukee brace, this extends up to the child's chin to treat a curve in the upper spine and neck.
Surgery is Required for Aggressive Curvature
For the child whose back is at risk of developing a severe curve, an orthopedic doctor will do a spinal fusion. This surgery causes selected adjacent vertebrae to grow together, reducing the curve of the spine. To support the back while the bones fuse together, metal rods are placed on both sides of the spine, holding it in place. A back brace may also be needed to support the back while healing takes place.
On the rare occasion when a child does need treatment for a curve in their spine, these techniques have proven effective at helping the child have a normal life. The key is early detection and beginning treatment while the bones are still growing so the spine can be encouraged to grow straighter. Contact Orthopaedic Associates Of Rochester for more information.