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Ancient doctors chose the Greek word "skoliosis" which means "crookedness" to describe the abnormal side to side curvature of the spine that some patients presented with. The word has since been anglicized but the meaning is the same. The human spine, when viewed front to back, should be straight. See picture 1.
In scoliosis, the straight spine is deranged in a sideways curve. See picture 2.
The good news is that most people with scoliosis are not expected to require advanced treatment. The biggest problem with scoliosis is that doctors and researchers are still not sure what causes the so-called "idiopathic" scoliosis. That's the type that many people are born with and comprises about 85% of all cases. The other type is posturally induced and is much easier to understand and to treat- more on that a bit later in this article. Each year, scoliosis patients will make more than 600,000 visits to private physicians for treatment; an estimated 30,000 children are put into braces for scoliosis and another 38,000 patients of all ages under go spinal fusion surgery.
One thing all professionals agree on is that scoliosis is a multirfactorial disorder which requires a true multidisciplinary approach for effective treatment and management. A "mild" curve is considered one to be 20 Degrees or less. 21 Degrees or higher is considered to be a major curve.
Chiropractors have been in the vanguard of scoliosis management in the 20th Century and now on into the 21st Century. Manipulation of the spine for mild curves and even curvatures as high as 40 Degrees has shown good results in either reducing curves of the mild type or pain reduction in the more advanced curves. Exercises can help a patient but exercise alone does not reduce abberant curvatures. Weight control, diet, ergonomics, manipultation, exercise, sleep posture all play a part in treating scoliosis. In extreme cases, braces or surgically implanted "Harrington Rods" are necessary. Fortunately, most scoliosis cases are not that serious. Consider the following true case that presented several years ago to one of my Boston offices:
Ted (not his real name) presented on Saturday morning complaining of terrible back pain.
Our case history revealed the surprising fact that he had never had back pain before in his entire life. Not even a slight twinge. He absolutly swore he had never had so much as a slight pain ever before in his life. Ted was 44 at the time and slightly overweight but not by much. Even more surprising were his X-Rays. He had a 39 Degree Scoliosis in his back, and still swore he had never had the slightest back pain ever. Scoliosis curves come in two basic visual types: an "S" curve which is really two scoliosis curves that weave back and forth like an S in the patient's spine. The other is the "C" curve which is a simple half-moon arc that is localized in the spine somewhere and corrects itself later on up in the spine. "C" curves generally are posturally induced which means the patient did something to put the abberant curve in the spine. The "S" curves are usually always idiopathic, that is to say, the patient was born with it. Upon further questioning, Ted revealed that he was a golf pro at the local gold course. That also was not unusual. Upon much additional questioning, Ted finally described exactly how he taught his students: He leaned on his putter, a short club used for finishing off a hole, all day long while he chatted, coached and otherwise taught his students. He apparently had leaned on that putter 8-10 hours a day, 6 days a week (excepting vacation time) for over 20 years. He had leaned to his right, thus putting a left sided C curve into his low back and lower mid back. It was clear to both of us that he had given himself a posturally induced scoliosis. Oddly, he never had any pain all those years before coming into my office. (*See Pain Discussion). Too bad for Ted. Had he had some pain say, 10 years before or 15 years before, it might have prompted the doctor then to take X-Rays and perhaps his posture could have been adjusted accordingly then. Remember, pain is terrible indicator of our health. We may or may not have any pain and have a serious condition brewing in our bodies. Such was the case with Ted. I was able to give him some slight relief that day but he was in so much pain, had so much inflammation, so much muscle spasm, there was little I could do with him. Over the course of time, the pain eased and we discussed his case at length. He modified his teaching stance immediately, began exercising, lost weight and underwent treatment at our office. When last I saw Ted, his abberant curve had been reduced from 39 Degrees to 32 Degrees. All things considered, that was striking.
As with all conditions, we urge patients to think in terms of prevention. Do NOT wait until the last minute to try a desperate modality to correct a problem. Chiropractic has always espoused the Prevention mentality and we urge all patients to get regular medical and chiropractic checkups to keep your good health intact.