What are the symptoms, risk factors and complications of scoliosis?
What are the symptoms of scoliosis?
The most commonly seen symptoms of scoliosis include4:
- A difference in the height of the shoulders
- The head appearing uncentred in relation to the body
- A difference in hip positioning or height
- A difference in shoulder blade position or height
- Arms hanging at different lengths when standing
- When bending forward, the left and right sides of the back seem to differ in height
Leg pain, back pain, as well as changes in bladder and bowel movements and habits are not typically associated with idiopathic scoliosis. If these symptoms occur, then immediate evaluation by a doctor is necessary as the condition may be more severe than initially suspected.
The symptoms associated with scoliosis may often be mistaken for other spinal deformities or diseases and may also be a result of an infection or injury. It is best to always consult a doctor or specialist for an accurate diagnosis and treatment.
When to take a child to the doctor
It is advised that an appointment be made to see a doctor if a child has any of the symptoms of scoliosis. Bear in mind, a mild curvature of the spine may develop without one noticing as this tends to appear gradually and does not result in any pain. In some cases, a teacher, family member or friend may notice a child’s scoliosis before the parent does.
What are risk factors for scoliosis?
Risk factors that have been identified with the most common type of scoliosis (idiopathic scoliosis) include:
- Age – Symptoms tend to start during a child’s growth spurt which occurs just before puberty (typically between the ages of nine and 15).
- Gender – Girls tend to have a higher risk of scoliosis. While both girls and boys tend to develop mild cases of scoliosis at roughly the same rate, girls will usually have a greater risk of spinal curvature progressing and require more aggressive treatment.
- Family history – Scoliosis appears to run in some families and having a family history with direct relatives affected by the condition increase one’s chances of developing it.
What are the complications of scoliosis?
The majority of people with scoliosis have a mild form of the condition with relatively few adverse effects, however, in some cases, the condition may lead to certain complications, these may include:
- Heart and lung damage – When scoliosis is severe, then the rib cage may press against the heart and lungs. This makes it difficult to breathe and for the heart to pump, thus damaging the lungs and heart.
- Back issues – If one has scoliosis as a child, the chances of suffering from chronic back pain later in life are higher.
- Appearance – When scoliosis progresses, it may result in visible changes to the body. For example, the shoulders or hips may appear uneven, ribs may be prominent or a shift in the trunk and waist to one side may be evident. This often results in the sufferer feeling self-conscious about their appearance.
What effect does scoliosis have on the bones?
Scoliosis has been linked to osteopenia. This is a condition that is marked by a loss of bone mass that results in bone density being lower than normal, but not so low that the sufferer is diagnosed with osteoporosis. Adolescent girls who from scoliosis may also be diagnosed with osteopenia. Some doctors recommend that a bone density test be conducted if one has scoliosis. Determining the degree of bone loss may help to predict the severity of spinal curvature progression.
If osteopenia is left untreated, it may progress and develop into osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition that affects the density of the bones and results in more severe loss of bone, eventually causing brittle bones that fracture easily. The disease is commonly seen in postmenopausal women. Adolescents with scoliosis have an increased risk of developing osteoporosis later in their life.
4. The University of Rochester. Scoliosis. Available: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=85&contentid=p07815 [Accessed 05.09.2017]