Frequently Asked Question's
Common questions about scoliosis. Things you should know:
Q. Will my curve get worse with age?
A. For a long time, doctors told patients that their scoliosis would not progress after the age of 18. Unfortunately, extensive research has proven this incorrect. Whether scoliosis develops earlier in life or in adulthood, it will most likely progress due to gravity. As the curve worsens, the physical deformation, pain and stress to the lungs and heart will also progress. For kids, curves can drastically worsen in a short amount of time due to the fact they are growing. If you suspect your child is going through a growth spurt, monitor their curve for progression.
Q. What are the health effects of scoliosis?
A. Scoliosis is not always associated with pain, although it commonly is. Even in patients without pain, heart and lung function is often compromised. According to the National Scoliosis Foundation, scoliosis is even associated with reduced life expectancy. On average, people with scoliosis suffer a 14- year reduction in their life expectancy, due to strain on the heart and reduced amount of oxygen supplied to the body. Scoliosis is also associated with digestive problems, headaches, shortness of breath, reproductive problems, chronic disease, hip pain, knee and leg pain.
Q. My Scoliosis is termed idiopathic, meaning the cause is unknown. Is it true I inherited this condition from my mother?
A. Scoliosis is not a genetic mutation, or a reaction to heavy backpacks worn as a kid, or the result of an anatomical short leg. In fact, a recent study published in the Spine journal asserted that “No specific gene has ever been linked to scoliosis.” Scoliosis is the body’s natural and innate response to the loss of mechanical function provided by the normal curves of the spine. When these curves disappear, the body re-inserts them in another dimension. If scoliosis has a “cause”, then it can only be described by the laws of physics. It is easy to grasp the concept of mechanical advantage for yourself. Find a heavy weight, about 10 to 20 pounds, and hold it in your hand. Most likely, your elbow will come close to your body, your palm will be up and your fingers will be away from you. This is very similar to how your spine supports the weight of your head with the curve in your neck. Now try removing the curve from your wrist, rotate it 180 degrees and bend it forwards with the weight still in your hand. Your elbow will swing out to the side to replace the lost stability. This is very similar to what happens in your spine when the curve in your neck is lost. The body develops scoliosis because a straight spine is extremely unstable. This often is caused by trauma during birth or shortly after.
Q. There is a lot of controversy about whether or not bracing works? What is your opinion with treating scoliosis with a brace?
A. The controversy over the effectiveness of bracing is somewhat misleading. Most Doctors will not claim that bracing will correct scoliosis, but can prevent progression as long as the brace is worn rather, the debate is over whether or not wearing a brace will prevent the scoliosis from getting worse. When doctors state that bracing “works” what they’re really saying is that it stabilizes the scoliosis, keeping it at its current position. Most doctors will insist that bracing does “work” – with proper compliance. Recommended compliance is twenty-three hours per day, every day. If this seems a little extreme to you, you’re not alone. In a study published in the American Journal of Orthopedics, 60% of the patients surveyed felt that bracing had handicapped their life, and 14% felt it had left a psychological scar. The Children’s Research Center in Dublin, Ireland, has not recommended bracing as a scoliosis treatment since 1991, stating: “If bracing does not reduce the proportion of children with AIS [adolescent idiopathic scoliosis] who require surgery for cosmetic improvement of their deformity, it cannot be said to provide a meaningful advantage to the patient or the community.”
Q. Why do you recommend avoiding the spinal rod implantation surgery?
A. Scoliosis is detrimental to the body because of the stress it places on the central nervous system, heart and lungs. Research has shown that the function of the heart and lungs is unchanged after the spinal implantation surgery. The long-term effects of this procedure can actually be worse than the effects of living with untreated scoliosis. Spinal motion is essential for proper functioning of the spine and central nervous system, and surgery reduces spinal range of motion, even in un-fused areas. Additionally, many patients seek surgery for the physical deformations of a “curved back” or “rib hump”, and spinal surgery will generally not correct either of these.
Q. If it is so harmful, then why is the Scoliosis implant surgery still being performed in the United States?
A. First, many healthcare professionals are not aware of the scientific literature that details the negative side effects of the procedure. Also, very little follow-up with the patient is performed long term after the operation. Doctors are desperate to meet their patient’s demands for their scoliosis treatment, but have no options besides prescribing bracing or performing surgery. Alternative scoliosis treatment methods are simply not explored by the established medical community because of the possibility that they may prove to be more effective and less costly. This would eliminate the need to treat scoliosis surgically and cause a great deal of money to be lost.
Q. Why will my insurance company pay for the Harrington rod surgery, but not alternative methods of treating scoliosis?
A. The answer is deceptively simple, and unfortunately based upon laws of economics, rather than what is best for the patient. The insurance companies are undoubtedly aware of the research stating that 40% of operated patients are legally defined as permanently handicapped for the rest of their lives. In this event the insurance company’s financial responsibility for the patient is terminated, and Federal Social Security & Disability programs are responsible for covering all medical expenses. There is nothing more important than your health and insurance should not be a criteria for getting care.