Scoliosis is a condition of the spine in which the spine curves to varying degrees in an “S” shape, either to the left or right side. Here are 5 common myths about scoliosis with facts provided by Orthopedic Spine Surgeon Dr. Matthew Cunningham:
MYTH 1: Once diagnosed, scoliosis is relentlessly progressive– Scoliosis is diagnosed with an AP X-ray, and measured curve magnitude of greater than 10°. The great majority of children with an initial scoliosis diagnosis never require treatment with bracing or surgery and even as adults would be very unlikely to require definitive/surgical care. As a general rule after the pubertal growth spurt, small curves (under 50°) remain stable, while curves over 50° and to have higher risk for continued progression.
MYTH 2: Scoliosis is preventable- It has become increasingly understood that scoliosis has a multi-factorial cause, including genetics and physical/hormonal causes among others. There are much higher rates of scoliosis in identical twins, affected families, and girls greatly outnumber boys. Scoliosis is not caused by wearing heavy backpacks, vigorous stretching during gym class, or presence/absence of a favorite pet or food item.
MYTH 3: Scoliosis makes you fragile- Patients with scoliosis can be very active, participating in as vigorous a level of athletics as their potential symptoms allow them. Particularly with minor curves, scoliosis patients can even rise to NBA All-Star status and achieve league scoring records (check the internet). Even in patients with severe curves requiring surgery, once the spine has healed and the muscles have had their strength restored, patients can participate in vigorous activities to the extent that any residual symptoms allow.
MYTH 4: Scoliosis will ruin your life- Although children undergoing brace management, or patients of any age undergoing surgery, would likely not consider their treatment to be a “high point”, patients with scoliosis can go on to become famous actors/actresses, athletes, accomplished musicians, or excellent members of the typical work force.
MYTH 5: You can’t travel after scoliosis surgery- Although a postoperative patient may have discomfort for several weeks following surgery that might limit their enthusiasm for sitting on a train or airplane seat for hours at a time, once the surgery has healed there would be no reason for a scoliosis patient to not travel the world at their leisure. There would be no expectation for increased pain with changes in cabin pressure at high-altitudes, and I never had a patient report that their metal rods and screws caused the airport screening scans to indicate that they required further testing.
Matthew E Cunningham MD PhD is an orthopedic surgeon at HSS, specializing in Pediatric and Adult, Spine and Scoliosis surgery. Dr. Cunningham’s interests include minimally invasive and open surgery for spine deformity and degenerative conditions.