Diagnosing and Treating Scoliosis
A doctor’s examination will include taking a detailed medical history
of the patient, including times of growth spurts, birth defects, injuries
or trauma, and any other issues that may be associated with scoliosis.
A physical exam will also be performed in which the doctor will check
for muscle reflexes, weakness, and abnormal physical symptoms, including
curvature of the spine.
In addition to the physical exam and history, the doctor will run one or
more of the following tests:
X-Ray: An X-ray image of the spine will allow for identification of the curve,
as well as measurement of the angle. Curves greater than 20 degrees may
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans may be necessary if an underlying cause of scoliosis is suspected.
An MRI uses magnetic fields and radio-frequency waves to create a detailed
image of the spine. An MRI scan can also show evidence of previous injuries
that may have healed and other details in the spine that may be contributing
to the scoliosis that can’t normally be seen on an X-ray.
Computerized tomography (CT) is a noninvasive procedure that uses x-rays to produce a three-dimensional
image of the spine.
Bone scan. Radioactive material is injected into the vertebrae, making details of
the spine curve more visible.
The doctor will diagnose the scoliosis based on the location, shape, pattern,
and cause of the disorder. This group of facts will help the doctor create
a treatment plan most beneficial to the patient’s individual case.
Treatment for scoliosis varies, depending on the severity and cause of
Observation: The mildest forms of scoliosis are simply observed to see if, over time,
the disorder stops progressing on its own. Some non-invasive treatments
may be used, such as physical therapy, CAM (complementary alternative
medicine such as acupuncture or chiropractor), nutritional supplements,
and electrical stimulation. (These treatments may help with pain management,
but have not been proven to halt the curve progression.)
Bracing: An adolescent who is still growing may be required to wear a brace in
order to halt progression of the curvature, especially if the curve is
more than 25 to 30 degrees, if the patient is still growing, or if the
patient is a girl who has not begun menstruating.
Surgery: Surgery may be necessary for severe cases in which the scoliosis is worsening
and debilitating. Surgery is recommended for curves that greater than
45 degrees and getting worse. The goal of surgery is to correct the curve
and stop it from getting worse if a patient is still growing. Surgery
for scoliosis may also be indicated if there are cardiac or pulmonary
complications due to the scoliosis.
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