What Is Scoliosis?
Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine that is most likely to first occur during the growth spurt right before the onset of puberty. This condition occurs in approximately 3% of adolescents. While most cases of scoliosis are mild, more serious cases can be debilitating. A severe spinal curve will lead to a reduced amount of space within the chest, which then crowds the lungs. The lungs are unable to to function properly when impeded by the encroachment of the curved spinal column, which leads to breathing problems.
What Causes Scoliosis?
While cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy can cause scoliosis, the cause is unknown in most cases. The three types of scoliosis are idiopathic, congenital, and neuromuscular, and the most common form is adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS). Idiopathic means unknown; there's no single known cause in these instances, which make up 80% of all diagnosed cases. The other 20% of cases are due to neuromuscular, congenital, degenerative, and traumatic causes. When the cause is known, it can help determine what course treatment should take.
In typical cases, a scoliosis patient's curvature bends to the right. In an atypical case, the curvature bends to the left and can cause complications due to the proximity to the heart.
How Scoliosis Affects Your Feet
When people think of scoliosis, their first thought probably isn't their feet. While the connection between foot problems and the spine isn't obvious, there are ample interactions between the two. Your sciatic nerve travels from your spine down to your feet. When scoliosis curvature causes an imbalance in your spine, this can lead to foot issues due to nerve compression that disrupts the signals between your spine and your lower extremities, which your legs and feet will interpret as pain.
The reverse is also true. Foot problems can lead to the development of scoliosis. For example, if the arch of the left ankle collapses and causes flat feet, your shoulders will become unbalanced, and scoliosis can develop. Any imbalance stemming from the feet can affect the legs, pelvis, and vertebrae and lead to spinal misalignment.
For expert diagnosis and treatment of foot conditions related to scoliosis, Dr. Schoene of Gurnee Podiatry & Sports Medicine in Chicago and Park City can address any concerns and develop a specialized treatment plan for you.
Signs And Symptoms of Scoliosis
Here are the signs and symptoms to watch for in scoliosis:
- Curved posture
- Difficulty sitting or standing
- Difficulty walking due to loss of leg muscle coordination
- Leaning towards one side
- Nerve damage, numbness, weakness, or pain in the legs and feet
- Protruding rib
- Decreased height due to a curved spine
- Shortness of breath and fatigue caused by an upper spine curve
- Spinal stiffness
- Muscle spasms, physical deformity, or an uneven waist
- Uneven shoulders or hips
- Bump in the lower back
Muscles and ligaments can be subject to stretching and strain from overuse as the body compensates to adapt to abnormal spinal curvature, and this misalignment can affect balance, as well. Patients may also feel fragile, like they aren't comfortable in their bodies.
A diagnosis of scoliosis classifies the condition in several ways. The first is determining the severity scale of the condition according to the Cobb angle, which is a measurement tool to determine the most-tilted vertebrae in each curve. This measurement is taken via X-ray and reveals the severity of the spinal curve and misalignment.
The following treatments can offer varying degrees of relief to scoliosis patients:
- Medication. Your healthcare professional will start by recommending over-the-counter (OTC) non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, and naproxen. NSAIDs aren't suitable for everyone, so tell your doctor if you have allergies or other contraindications.
- Pain medication. If your pain is too severe for OTC pain relievers, talk to your primary care physician or Dr. Schoene about other treatments. Pain medications can help to lessen the pain that accompanies scoliosis. You may be prescribed stronger pain medication or referred to a pain management clinic.
- Exercise. Doing activities to strengthen and stretch your back can help to reduce pain, and exercising with the guidance of a physical therapist can be beneficial. They can teach you specific exercises that are tailored to your condition. Dr. Schoene's highly-trained, experienced staff can provide in-house physical therapy services to supplement the other treatments she offers to her scoliosis patients.
- Spinal injections. Scoliosis can put pressure on the nerves in and near your spine, which can cause irritation, pain, and sensations of numbness and tingling from your lower back to your feet. If this is ongoing and becomes bothersome, steroid injections and local anesthetic may be administered, and the relief from these injections can benefit you for a few weeks to a few months. The only drawback is that these are not a long-term solution, which means you'll need to receive injections on a regular basis to maintain your relief.
- Back brace. Back braces are sometimes helpful for adolescent patients, but they are rarely used by adults with scoliosis, at least not to attempt to straighten the spine. A brace is only helpful to adults seeking pain relief by supporting the spine.
- Surgery. In most cases, surgery isn't recommended, but some isolated cases may benefit from this treatment.
If you or a loved one suffer from scoliosis, it may be time to look into different treatment options offered by Dr. Schoene at the Gurnee Podiatry & Sports Medicine Associates. You can reach us by phone or via our online contact form, and a team member will be happy to answer your questions.
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