“Naturally” reversing a spinal curvature is a dangerous notion.
Many people have heard of the spinal deformity known as scoliosis, whether at a routine doctor’s appointment or from their child’s school nurse during a routine screening. They know it is a condition that affects the spine, but to what extent that effect matters, or when to do something about it, can be elusive. Yet, these are critical questions to answer for people as they assess their own or their child’s spine health. In this 21st Century Age of Technology, where do we typically turn when we have questions about anything? The Internet, of course. Unfortunately, even with the copious amounts of online information available at our fingertips today, not all of it is accurate or safe. So let’s dive in and debunk a major scoliosis myth that captures so many sufferers’ attention.
A search of the term “can scoliosis be reversed without surgery?” will typically yield at least one Page 1 result with affirmation that leads a person to believe the answer to that question is yes. As a spine surgeon specializing in minimally invasive scoliosis treatment, I am here to tell you that reversing a scoliosis curve is impossible without surgical intervention. With that said, some highly effective non-surgical treatments can help slow, or in some cases, halt the progression of a spinal curve. But none of them will reverse the damage that has already occurred. Believing in this myth can lead people unknowingly down dangerous treatment paths that may also prevent them from getting the legitimate and clinically-proven medical care they need.
I am a spine surgeon who has made the care and treatment of patients with scoliosis and other spinal deformities my life’s work for more than two decades. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of times someone has come to me as a last resort, with debilitating, disfiguring, and disabling scoliosis because they believed for far too long that it could be “cured” by some other means.
When it comes to scoliosis, especially for those trying to avoid surgery, early identification is essential. But it is untrue that all cases of scoliosis need medical intervention or surgery to correct them. Many require consistent monitoring and observation by an experienced health care provider. Scoliosis is measured by the degree of curvature. For those people with a “mild” spinal curve (less than 20 degrees), sometimes all that is required are regular checkups to ensure the curve isn’t worsening. Scoliosis tends to worsen while bones are still growing, so regular monitoring during childhood is critically important.
In cases where the scoliosis curve is “moderate” (between 25-40 degrees), bracing may be recommended. Specifically, a brace may help prevent further curve progression for a still-growing spine until growth stops after puberty. On the other hand, a diagnosis of “severe” (more than 50 degrees) scoliosis may require surgery to correct the existing curvature and prevent further progression. In some cases of severe scoliosis, there are other factors at play that warrant surgical intervention, such as lung compression or heart issues. Scoliosis surgery is also warranted when the condition results in chronic pain or significantly alters a person’s physical appearance or stature.
The month of June is National Scoliosis Awareness Month. This is a great time to schedule your child’s annual well visit and ensure a scoliosis screening is part of it. 1 in 40 people will be affected by scoliosis at some point in their lives. Though it is often identified in younger patients who are still growing, scoliosis can occur in anyone at any age. There are signs you can watch for at home too. Asymmetry or unevenness of the back, hips, or shoulders can be signs of scoliosis, and a head that appears slightly “off-center” or one shoulder blade that looks higher than the other are other signs.
If you notice any apparent signs of scoliosis in your children, or yourself, make an appointment with your doctor for evaluation. If you or a loved one are diagnosed with scoliosis, consider consulting a board-certified spine specialist with extensive experience in treating scoliosis who can give you expert advice on the next steps or treatment options.
Don’t panic. But don’t rely solely on the Internet for scoliosis care and treatment advice, either. If something does catch your eye and you’re curious about it, discuss it with your doctor before trying it. Understanding the facts about scoliosis can help YOU become YOUR best advocate for your spine health by making well-informed and educated decisions.