Scoliosis is a spine condition that is characterized by an abnormal, lateral curvature of the spine and can affect people of every gender, race, and age. In its most severe forms, scoliosis can result in severe, painful deformity of the spine. For many people who are diagnosed with scoliosis, fear of severe deformity is at the forefront of their minds. The truth is, many people who have scoliosis may never know it because it doesn’t cause symptoms and many who are diagnosed will never actually develop the debilitating deformity they fear. These facts aside, many people will “page Dr. Google” to find answers to their questions about scoliosis. They’ll surely find quite a bit of information, and unfortunately, a lot of it is just plain wrong if not downright dangerous. With more online information at our fingertips than ever before and after decades of work in a practice that specializes in treating people with spinal deformities, patients still come to me with inaccurate information about scoliosis – what causes it, how it’s treated and what their prognosis is. To assuage these fears, I want to offer the FACTS to dispel the most common myths about scoliosis that I hear in my office:
Myth # 1: You can prevent scoliosis. As parents, we can beat ourselves up over what we could have done or should have known with regards to any illnesses or conditions that occur in our children. When teary-eyed parents approach me fretfully with this idea in mind, I tell them all the same thing: no scientific evidence shows the ability to prevent the development of scoliosis. Scoliosis is considered “idiopathic” by definition, which means its origins are unknown. We can’t know how to prevent something if we don’t know what causes it. The good news is that researchers are hard at work to determine the root causes of scoliosis, which will be the foundation for how it can be prevented in the future.
Myth # 2: Scoliosis is caused by wearing a too-heavy backpack. Again, most cases of scoliosis are idiopathic, especially the cases that are diagnosed in adolescents between 10-12 years old. While the improper wearing of a backpack or loading it down with too many items aren’t great for posture and spine health overall, the idea that doing so can cause scoliosis is one myth we can absolutely dispell.
Myth #3: Every scoliosis cases will eventually cause severe deformity that will warrant surgery to correct it. Very few cases of scoliosis are severe enough to require surgery to repair the spinal deformity. The majority of scoliosis cases need no treatment at all, especially if the condition isn’t causing the person to experience any adverse symptoms associated with it, like pain or disability.
Myth # 4: Treatment alternates other than surgery can reverse a scoliosis curve. This is one of the biggest scoliosis myths mostly because it’s the one you’ll find some of the most significant scoliosis misinformation on the Internet. Companies peddling various exercise programs, contraptions, braces, lotions, and potions perpetuate the myth that a severe scoliotic curve can be reversed by something other than surgical intervention. I understand the desire to avoid surgery, truly. And we spine surgeons must only recommend it in severe cases, especially those that are causing the patient significant pain, deformity or disability. Unfortunately, some patients can be persuaded into these alternatives over such an extended period of time that once they do come to us for correction, they are in such significant pain or their deformity has progressed even further. Please keep in mind that braces, spinal manipulation techniques, spine exercises and other alternatives cannot reverse scoliosis curvatures in the spine. That being said, when done correctly, some methods may slow a curve or stop it from progressing. But they can’t change what has already happened.
Myth #5: Surgery for scoliosis is excruciating, invasive and risky. This used to be true. Previously, scoliosis surgery involved big incisions, cutting through layers of muscle that required a significant amount of time to heal after surgery and large amounts of blood loss during the procedure. But we’ve come a long way since then. Minimally invasive techniques that are now used to correct scoliosis curvatures in the spine are backed by a bevy of clinical research that supports their effectiveness. Today, better results can be achieved with techniques that involve smaller incisions, while avoiding delicate muscle tissue and minimal blood loss. As a result of these methods, patients can get back to living the lives they love sooner, with less pain and fewer complications from surgery as the procedures used decades ago. Now, this isn’t to say that minimally invasive scoliosis surgery is without risk. It isn’t. No matter what surgery you’re considering, they all involve some risk that should be discussed in realistic detail between patient and a knowledgeable, skilled and experienced spine surgeon.
As is the case with most information found online today, some sources are better than others. When you’re looking for information about scoliosis, seek out reputable sources that use clinical studies and scientific data to support their claims. If some of those claims you read seem too good to be true, they probably are. If you’re in doubt, be sure to talk to your doctor about suggests for you to obtain the best, most reliable information. Finally, once you have the information you’re looking for, don’t make decisions on scoliosis treatments to try without talking to your doctor first.