What Is Scoliosis?
Scoliosis is a spinal condition that impacts as many as 3% of Americans. Most individuals are diagnosed between the ages of 10 and 15, though scoliosis can affect individuals at any age. Though there is no cure for scoliosis, you can manage it and minimize its effects. This is essential to prevent some of the potentially dire complications that are associated with advanced cases.
What Causes Scoliosis?
Scoliosis is usually diagnosed in children and teens, but it's possible for an adult to receive a new scoliosis diagnosis, either because the condition was so minor that it went unnoticed in childhood or because it developed in adulthood. Doctors can't always pinpoint the cause of scoliosis. Idiopathic scoliosis is a type of scoliosis that typically develops around age 10 for unknown reasons. If this condition occurs in children under the age of 2, it's known as infantile idiopathic scoliosis.
Misshapen vertebrae cause congenital scoliosis. This form of scoliosis is usually diagnosed in childhood and may be identified as early as infancy.
Neuromuscular scoliosis occurs when the muscles surrounding the spine are weakened or imbalanced. Lacking proper strength and balance, these back muscles may push or pull on the vertebrae unevenly, causing a spinal curve. This is often the result of a condition such as spina bifida, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy.
It's far less common for an adult to develop scoliosis than for a child. However, an adult may develop scoliosis as the result of osteoporosis or degenerative changes in the spine. These conditions will also cause scoliosis to worsen noticeably if you've had a childhood scoliosis diagnosis.
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
In children, scoliosis usually presents visually. You may notice symptoms such as uneven shoulders or hips, one shoulder blade appearing more prominent than the other, or the ribcage sticking out on one side. The head may appear as though it's not centered on the rest of the body, and the arms will often hang differently on either side, even when the child is standing straight. When they bend forward, you may see that one side of the back is higher than the other. In some cases, a distinctive bulge may be visible on the back.
In adults, scoliosis often causes back pain. This may result from compressed spinal nerves or the curvature of the spine itself. Compressed nerves may cause pain, weakness, or numbness in the legs. You may also experience muscular pain along the spine as the muscles on the convex side of the spine work to compensate for the compromised muscles on the concave side. You may also notice some visual signs of scoliosis, such as a bulge on the back, an asymmetrical spine, or the inability to sit upright. You may lose height due to scoliosis.
If you have a progressive curve over 70 degrees, you may experience shortness of breath or find that you become fatigued very quickly. This is because the significant curvature of the spine presses on the lungs, limiting their capacity. If the curve of the spine affects the thoracic and lumbar sections, you may feel full even though your stomach is empty. In this case, the spine compresses the abdomen, creating a false feeling of satiety.
How Scoliosis Impacts Your Body
Scoliosis can exacerbate several health issues in adulthood. If you have scoliosis, you may experience greater body stiffness and pain. Over time, scoliosis can cause the spaces around the spinal cord to become narrower, resulting in a condition known as spinal stenosis. You may also have a loss of water retention, which causes the spinal discs to become shorter. This can also result in stenosis. Symptoms of spinal stenosis include shooting pain, tingling, numbness, and weakness. Scoliosis can often cause unleveling of the hips and cause the legs to function unleveled. It can cause the longer functioning leg to produce a foot that pronates more and then often foot conditions like bunions, hammertoes, or metatarsal pains can ensue.
If the spinal curve becomes advanced, it may cause problems with pelvis alignment. This creates a measurable difference in leg length that will affect your gait. This, in turn, causes pain in the back, hips, knees, and pelvis. Worsening scoliosis can eventually result in compromised organ function affecting the lungs, heart, and abdomen, as the abnormal curvature of the spine may place excessive pressure on these areas.
Scoliosis Treatment Options
Though there's no cure for scoliosis, it's possible to greatly slow the progression of this condition and reduce the overall scoliosis curve. Physicians often take a "watch and wait" approach with children if the curve is less than 20 degrees. Careful observation and regular visits to the doctor are essential if you're managing scoliosis. The physician may order additional tests such as X-ray imaging, biomechanical foot assessments, or 2D/3D EOS imaging to monitor the condition.
Typically, when there is mild curvature a lift can often help the pain associated with the unlevel hips which can cause strain on the lower lumbar muscles, causing low back pain as well. A lift in the shoe or even being evaluated for custom foot orthotics can help alleviate lower extremity pains. If you have a curve greater than 20 degrees, doctors typically recommend bracing. A scoliosis brace provides spinal support and helps slow the progression of the spinal curve. Holistic medicine such as acupuncture, massage therapy, postural training, and physical therapy can all help as well.
If the curve is greater than 50 degrees, you may need surgical scoliosis treatment. Scoliosis surgery typically involves the placement of screws to fuse two or more vertebrae together and straighten the spine.
Speak to Your Doctor About Spine Issues
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.