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The Ultimate Guide to Scoliosis in Children

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Pediatric scoliosis is a common global condition of a typical curvature of the spine that affects kids under 18 years. While this health condition can begin in childhood, most affected children get diagnosed at the ages of 10 and 16 years. Pediatric scoliosis often occurs in 1% to 3% of children and remains mild for some time, which does not necessitate treatment. In this article, we explore the types, symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of scoliosis in children.

What is Scoliosis in Children?

Also known as Pediatric scoliosis, scoliosis in children is a health condition that involves an abnormal side-to-side curvature of the spine. Naturally, the backbone (spine) slightly curves forward and backward. However, children with scoliosis have a spine that curves forming a C or S shape. While different scoliosis types can manifest at any age, most cases of scoliosis in children are diagnosed during growth spurts in initial teen years.

What are the Symptoms of Pediatric Scoliosis?

Children with mild scoliosis don’t show any visible symptoms or pain. Sometimes you may notice the symptoms below:

  • Changes in posture
  • Uneven shoulders and hips
  • The child’s trunk or head may seem twisted to one side
  • When the child bends forward, you may notice one side of the back appearing higher compared to the other.
  • The changes in spine shape for a severe curve may cause back pains

What are the Types of Scoliosis?

Three main types of pediatric scoliosis exists:

  • Idiopathic scoliosis – The term Idiopathic simply means unknown cause. This common scoliosis type contributes to about 85% of all scoliosis cases.
  • Congenital scoliosis – This type of scoliosis is the least common and develops as a result of irregular growth of the spine bones when the baby is still in the womb during embryonic development. Healthcare professionals usually detect this rare spine abnormality at birth.
  • Neuromuscular scoliosis – This scoliosis type is caused by abnormalities in the nerves and muscles supporting the spine. Other muscular and neurological conditions that cause this include spina bifida, cerebral palsy, injury, or muscular dystrophy. Healthcare professionals use different terms to refer to idiopathic scoliosis based on when they diagnose
  • Infantile scoliosis: Children less than 3 years
  • Juvenile scoliosis: Kids from age 4 to age 10
  • Adolescent scoliosis: Ages between 11 to 18 years
  • Adult idiopathic scoliosis: 18 years and above with a complete skeletal growth

How to Diagnose Pediatric Scoliosis

Doctors and health professionals perform X-rays of the spine and physical examination to diagnose scoliosis. While the curvature of the spine is usually typical, experts regard the lateral curve as scoliosis if it is more than 10 degrees.

The in-office screening process may involve your child standing up straight and bending forward to touch toes. Your health expert then examines the back to see the spine shape and how it sits when your child  moves around. Besides, the expert may do testing of the muscle strength and reflexes to check your child’s nerves. In special cases, the doctor may request for additional imaging tests to get clarity of the diagnosis.

What is the Treatment for Pediatric Scoliosis?

Doctors recommend treatment options depending on your child’s scoliosis type, age, severity of the spinal curvature, and growth potential. The treatment often focuses on relieving symptoms rather than straightening the curve. The scoliosis treatment options include nonsurgical (conservative) treatment and scoliosis surgery.

Conservative Scoliosis Treatment

This is the first line of treatment for most scoliosis cases. The treatment process include the following:

  • Watch and wait: Most children with mild adolescent idiopathic scoliosis don’t need any other treatment apart from regular X-rays and close monitoring. You need to take your child to a healthcare provider every six months to check the degree of the curve.
  • Bracing: If your child has idiopathic scoliosis of nearly 20-40 degrees, a very progressive curve, and vast height growth potential, the health expert may recommend bracing. A scoliosis brace is a medical device you wear around the torso to inhibit the curve from worsening. It works by slowing down the progression of the curve.
  • Exercises: Doctors recommend exercises for scoliosis to help strengthen the core muscles and enhance flexibility.
  • Physical therapy: A physical therapist can strengthen muscles and ease pain by helping you perform daily stretching, improve your child’s posture, perform physical activity guidance, and low-impact work-outs.

Scoliosis Surgery

If your child has a type of scoliosis that is unresponsive to conservative treatment, the doctor may advise you to do surgery to restore balance, stabilize the spine, and ease pressure on the nerves. The most notable surgical techniques for treating scoliosis include:

  • Spinal fusion: With this technique, your child’s surgeon uses a special tool to fuse your spine bones together with an aim to stabilize the spine. After that, the health expert holds the spine in place with metal braces.
  • Expandable rod: The technique involves inserting an expandable rod along your child’s vertebrae to support their growing spine. The expert constantly adjusts the rod’s length as the child continues to grow.

The current advances in computer-assisted technologies and surgical techniques make scoliosis surgery minimally invasive and speed up the recovery process.

All hope is not lost if your child is diagnosed with scoliosis. With the right and timely treatment measure and close monitoring, your child can grow into adulthood without exhibiting serious functional impairment.

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