How Does Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis Show Up?
It’s often a 12 year-old female that feels spine pain, primarily in her upper back.
She has one higher shoulder, along with a protruding shoulder blade and protruding ribs on the same side as her spinal curvature.
She often feels a lot of pain while sleeping.
Lying flat in bed causes her pain — one side of her upper back is constantly in contact with the mattress, and must bear the weight of her upper body in its entirety.
Her pain frequently wakes her up throughout the night.
She must get out of bed and walk around for a few minutes to loosen up her back before returning to bed.
It’s difficult to get the proper restorative sleep.
Her body needs rest to grow properly. It can become difficult to be focused on her tasks at school. But this is only the beginning.
Sometimes she gets muscle spasms.
The muscles on the side of her spinal curve are in constant contraction. This pressure imposed by the spine creates sharp pain in her upper back. Soreness can also occur on the other side of her curve, due to the constant stretching of her associated muscles.
But her pain is only one of her problems.
She may feel embarrassed or depressed in social situations.
When wearing more revealing clothes, such as a bathing suit, the cosmetic deformity of the curve makes her self-conscious.
She may feel afraid when she seeks care.
Due to the sensitivity of her ribs and the spasmed muscles along her spine, she wants to protect herself from more pain.
Frustration can also occur from the disruption of her daily life.
Poor quality of sleep, constant pain, and trouble finding clothes that fit properly all make her life more difficult.
I know how this 12 year-old feels.
As an adolescent, I frequently dealt with upper back and neck pain. I believed it was due to being an athlete and spending copious hours bent over my studies as a student. I regularly saw the chiropractor for adjustments and manual therapy to help keep the pain at bay naturally.
After receiving a couple adjustments, my pain levels dramatically dropped for an entire week. My sleep improved. Adjustments did help me manage pain, but, my pain did not go away until I began practicing good posture.
How is Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis Diagnosed?
Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis typically occurs in adolescent females. They may experience mid-back pain or notice that their clothes do not hang evenly on their body.
Sometimes we can see a high shoulder, a winged scapula, and some rib humping. A “winged” scapula means that one of the shoulder blades sticks out more than the other. Rib humping is evident when one side of the rib cage sticks out more than the other. If the spine is curved to the right, we see a high right shoulder, a right winged scapula, and rib humping on the right side of the rib cage. This all occurs due to the spinal curve pushing against these regions.
My own 18-degree scoliosis in my upper back was not diagnosed until I was 28 years old.
The condition is most often diagnosed with an x-ray.
An x-ray reveals the degree of curvature. A curvature is classified as a scoliosis when it is ten degrees or greater. Congenital anomalies may also be found within the spine. This is a different category of scoliosis, known as Congenital Scoliosis.
How is Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis Treated?
Healthy posture exercises.
Postural exercises relax the muscles on the spasmed side of the curve, and strengthen the muscles on the stretched side of the curve. Postural exercises performed daily provide more long-lasting relief.
Practicing good posture is paramount in training the body in proper positioning. Corrective alignment of the head and torso combats muscle imbalances and curvature progression. Once postural exercises are prescribed by a qualified practitioner, daily practice becomes the best treatment.
Exercises that reduce the curve.
Exercises aimed at reversing the curvature aid in easing the pressure on the spine. Placing a pillow or cushion under the side of the curvature while lying face up eases pain, allowing the muscles to stretch and relax. This helps spasms come less frequently.
Conservative care for a curvature of the spine 20 degrees or less.
Conservative care includes — chiropractic, physical therapy, and lifestyle modifications.
Chiropractic can not fix scoliosis.
Chiropractic helps manage the patient’s pain and refers them to the appropriate specialists. Regular adjustments and manual therapies keep the spine and muscles flexible. Chiropractors can also give the patient postural exercises.
Adjustments help keep the spine and associated muscles moving properly. They also enhance the spine’s ability to communicate with the brain, making the patient more aware of their body positioning.
Physical therapists will also work on the muscles, getting them to relax.
They also give the patient exercises to combat the muscle imbalance.
For younger patients, follow-up x-rays every six months to one year are recommended.
If the patient is skeletally immature, it’s best to watch curve progression over time.
Lifestyle modifications that help.
The following self-care activities make a difference.
- Practicing good posture
- Placing a cushion under the side of the winged scapula and rib humping while lying face-up
- Activities that contribute to the health of the muscles like taking magnesium supplements and consuming half your body weight in water
- Muscle rubs/creams, epsom salt baths, and electrical muscle stimulation can help relax the muscles and decrease the pain
Treatments for when the curvature is more severe.
If the curvature of the spine is between 20-40 degrees and the patient is skeletally immature, bracing may be recommended. This helps correct the curve and prevent further progression.
If the curvature of the spine is greater than 40 degrees, surgery may be recommended to straighten the spine. Rods are often placed in the spine to straighten the curve.
Scoliosis is a chronic condition and therefore may cause flare-ups in pain from time-to-time.
Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis can be difficult, but it can also be treated. As a young woman who has this condition, I can assure you, it’s not the end of the world. With proper care, young people can live life to the fullest, even with scoliosis.