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Get Ahead of the Curve

Posted 8/17/2017 by UHBlog

Want straight talk about scoliosis? Ask us.

Get Ahead of the Curve

Scoliosis, the Greek word for bending, is the most common spinal deformity in school-age children. That’s why it’s important for parents to have their children’s backs and be knowledgeable about this condition.

“While there are several types of scoliosis, adolescent idiopathic scoliosis is the most common form and affects children who are at least 10 years old, with females at 10 times higher risk,” says pediatric orthopedic surgeon Christina Hardesty, MD. “Scoliosis is usually found during a routine pediatric exam or at a scoliosis screening performed by a school nurse.”

When someone has scoliosis, the spine curves to one side or the other and resembles the letter "S" or "C" – whereas a normal spine is straight.

Some symptoms of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis are:

  • Uneven shoulders and hips
  • Uneven leg lengths
  • Head is slightly off center
  • Ribcage is not symmetrical, and the ribs may be prominent on one side
  • Clothes do not hang properly
  • Uneven space between arms and side when standing straight
  • Excessive arching or leaning to one side
  • A hump or an actual "S" curve to the spine

“Only a small percentage of children diagnosed with scoliosis will require treatment,” says Dr. Hardesty. “At UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital’s Spinal Deformity & Scoliosis Center, our nationally recognized team of professionals look at several factors, including the age of the child, the severity and the cause of scoliosis to determine the best treatment plan.”

Dr. Hardesty adds that small spinal curvatures (under 25 degrees) that are not expected to progress may not require treatment – just regular follow-up exams and X-rays.

More severe curvatures may necessitate bracing or surgery, depending on the size of the curve. Children with early onset scoliosis have a more challenging problem that requires specialized treatments, including braces, casts and rods that can grow with children.

UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital’s surgeons use the latest technologies and techniques to minimize the impact on these children. Magnetically controlled growing rods, for example, are lengthened in the office.

“These treatment options help decrease the need for repeat surgeries, and reduce infection risk and anesthesia exposure among still-growing children,” Dr. Hardesty says.

If large spinal curves are left untreated, problems can arise later in life, such as impaired heart and lung function, back pain, nerve issues and physical deformity.

According to Dr. Hardesty, the number of people diagnosed with scoliosis is rising.

“Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis has been relatively stable, occurring in a little over 3 percent of children,” she says. “Neuromuscular and congenital scoliosis have increased in prevalence over time. While we don’t always know the causes of scoliosis, the UH pediatric orthopedic team definitely knows how to help children and their families.”

Christina Hardesty, MD, is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. You can request an appointment with Dr. Hardesty or any other doctor online.

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