Scoliosis Frequently Asked Questions
Q. How do I know if I have scoliosis?
A. Your doctor can confirm scoliosis with an X-ray. Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine into a “C” or “S” shape. It is often noticed first by a parent, school nurse or friend as a small difference in the shape of your back. You might notice that your clothes begin to fit differently or that one hip is higher than the other. When you look in a mirror, you may see that one shoulder is raised or that you lean to one side.
Q. Is scoliosis caused by not drinking enough milk or eating too much junk food?
A. No. The most common form of scoliosis, idiopathic scoliosis, has a genetic component. It is not caused by your behavior, and there is no known vitamin, mineral or nutritional deficiency that leads to spinal deformity.
Q. Does scoliosis hurt?
A. Scoliosis does not usually hurt, and healthy teenagers shouldn't have curve-related pain. If you do feel pain, it's a good idea to schedule an appointment with your doctor for evaluation.
Q. Why do kids get scoliosis?
A. Of the many types of scoliosis, idiopathic is the most common in children and adolescents. Idiopathic means the cause is unknown, but doctors at TSRHC have recently linked the condition to three different genes, proving genetics play a role. Read more about TSRHC's scoliosis gene discoveries. Other types of scoliosis are far less common and can be caused by an abnormal shape of one of the vertebra (congenital scoliosis) or associated with an underlying neuromuscular condition (neuromuscular scoliosis).
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Q. Why do I have to wear a brace for scoliosis?
A. Your doctor has prescribed a scoliosis brace for you because he or she is concerned the curve in your back will progress without treatment. Wearing a brace has been shown to be the only effective nonsurgical way to prevent the curve from getting larger. Braces are usually prescribed for those curves above 25 degrees in patients who are still growing in the spine.
Q. Will the brace correct the curve?
The goal of the brace is to keep the spinal curve from progressing during the growth years. It is custom-made for your back's shape to align your spine as much as possible when you're actually wearing the scoliosis brace. The more you wear the brace, the more effective the brace is to maintain the curve at its present curvature.
Q. Will the brace hurt?
A. Wearing a scoliosis brace shouldn't hurt. It's important to understand that for a brace to be effective, some pressure is applied to the side of the chest to partially correct the curve. The brace may be somewhat uncomfortable at first, but the discomfort should decrease with time. If your brace hurts while you're wearing it, you should contact your orthotist to see if it needs an adjustment.
Q. If I wear a brace, is there still a chance that I will need to have scoliosis surgery?
A. If you're asked to wear a brace, it means there is concern that your curve will get worse on its own. That means your doctor and orthotist are trying to help prevent something that will likely occur otherwise. Because of this, no one can absolutely guarantee that your curve won't progress despite your willingness to wear the brace. However, many research studies have shown that the more an adolescent wears a brace, the more likely the curve will not get worse, and therefore, the more likely he or she will avoid surgery.
Q. How long will I have to wear the brace?
A. The main time in which your curve can get worse is during the adolescent years when your spine is growing quickly. This is when wearing a brace is beneficial. Your doctor will closely monitor how fast you're growing and how fast your bones are maturing, and you will be able to stop wearing the brace after the main risk for curve progression.
Q. What kinds of activities can I participate in while wearing the brace?
A. You can participate in almost every activity you currently enjoy. Apart from wearing your brace to school and while at home, you might be able to take off your brace while competing in certain sports or activities. You should ask your doctor about your specific interests.
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Q. What are the goals of scoliosis surgery?
A. The primary goal of scoliosis surgery is to stop the curve from getting worse. The secondary goal is to correct deformity.
Q. How much correction do you expect to achieve?
A. Through surgery, the physician safely corrects the curve while maintaining balance of the spine. An average amount of correction is usually 50 to 80 percent of the curve.
Q. How long will the incision be, and what can I expect in terms of scarring?
A. The length of the scar depends on whether you have one, two or three curves to be corrected. Surgery is usually done from the back, leaving a scar on the middle of the back. If the surgery is done through the side, the scar is on the side. The scar depends on the individual, but it usually heals as a thin white line within a year of the operation. You and your physician will discuss the best surgery method for you.
Q. What will I be given for pain after surgery?
A. Pain medication is given by a pain management nurse during and after the surgery to minimize your pain.
Q. When can I go back to school?
A. Children can typically return to school approximately three weeks after the surgery, but lifting heavy objects, such as backpacks, is discouraged for several months.
Q. How much can I do after surgery?
A. For the first month, limit activity to walks and light chores. Depending on your type of surgery and other factors to be discussed with your doctor, you may be ready for light sports as early as three months after surgery and back to full activity at six months. In general, you should avoid heavy lifting, bending or twisting for approximately six to nine months.
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Q. Do I have to have an X-ray to get a doctor's referral to TSRHC?
A. No, an X-ray is not necessary for a doctor's referral.
Q. Do I need to see a specialist if my curve is less than 10 degrees?
A. It's only considered scoliosis if your curve measures more than 10 degrees. Slight curves in the spine may not need any treatment other than periodic monitoring by your doctor.
Q. Can my school nurse make a referral?
A. A doctor's referral is required to become a patient at TSRHC. If your nurse detects a spinal curve, the best thing to do is to see a pediatrician or general practice doctor, who can examine the curve and determine if it's scoliosis. If your doctor confirms scoliosis, he or she can refer you to TSRHC for further evaluation. Your school nurse can also call TSRHC's Patient Access department for additional information.
Q. If I am developmentally mature (13 or older), can I still get scoliosis?
A. Yes. There are many types of scoliosis, and you can develop it at any age. If you think you might have scoliosis, you should see a doctor to confirm the condition.
Q. How long should I expect a clinic appointment to last?
A. A typical clinic appointment at TSRHC lasts approximately 1½ -2 hours.
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