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Scoliosis Awareness Month: What It Is And How To Help

scoliosis awareness - twisted green ribbon

Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine that affects two to four percent of the population. That’s roughly 9 million people in the United States. Most scoliosis is diagnosed, in teenagers, between the ages of 10 and 15, but the condition also affects infants, adults (especially women around menopause), and the elderly. Scoliosis affects people of all races, classes and genders. Girls are eight times more likely than boys to have a curve that will progress to a magnitude over 50 degrees, but for mild and moderate size curves it is 50:50, boys to girls.

Scoliosis is common in children with a variety of congenital and neuromuscular diseases, but it is most prevalent in seemingly healthy children, with no known cause. This is commonly referred to as Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis (AIS), a technical way of saying the cause is unknown. The current thinking is that scoliosis is a genetic disorder that must be activated by some external agent, this can be trauma, exposure to certain bacteria or even hormonal changes of puberty.

Scoliosis is a progressive condition and can lead to chronic back pain, impact heart and lung function, and can be emotionally detrimental. Early detection and treatment is key and the screening for scoliosis only takes about 30 seconds. However, less than half of the states in the US currently require screening for scoliosis in schools. It is important to educate parents, teachers, healthcare professionals and children of the early symptoms of scoliosis. Early detection combined with an effective early stage intervention program of exercises is the most exciting advance in scoliosis care! Various programs of exercise exist including CLEAR institute, Schroth, SEAS, Yoga for scoliosis, etc.

It is important for patients and doctors to work together to raise awareness about scoliosis and the importance of early detection and intervention. The most common symptom of scoliosis is an abnormal curve of the spine. A healthy spine viewed from the side has natural curvature and when viewed from behind the spine appears as a straight line. A person with scoliosis  will appear to have a lateral (side-to-side) curve in their spine when viewed from the back. Other symptoms, such as the head appearing off center or one hip or shoulder being higher on one side of the body, may also be noticed. There may be a more obvious curve in the back on one side of the rib cage from the twisting of the vertebrae and ribs. If the scoliosis is more severe, it can make it difficult for the heart and lungs to work properly. This can cause shortness of breath and chest pain.

Approximately one million patients diagnosed with scoliosis utilized health care resources in 2004 with $2.7 billion in estimated total hospital charges, excluding professional fees and non-covered charges, for all patients released from the hospital with an idiopathic scoliosis diagnosis.

June is officially designated as National Scoliosis Awareness Month. National Scoliosis Awareness Month was established to

 “unite scoliosis patients, families, physicians, clinicians, institutions and related businesses in a collaborative partnership to create a positive public awareness, education, and advocacy campaign through a grassroots network of local activities, events and media impressions throughout the year”.

In 2008 the National Scoliosis Foundation (NSF) secured the first official U.S. House of Representatives Proclamation from Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, PA, declaring June as National Scoliosis Awareness Month. The proclamation highlighted the facts about scoliosis and invited government officials, and the entire community to raise awareness about important issues regarding four major topics: Patient Care, Patient Screening, Patient Privacy, and Patient Protection.

Greater scoliosis awareness can help make the healthcare system more effective and less costly. Health seminars and support groups, can encourage sharing of personal stories and connect fellow patients so that those affected by scoliosis have a source of support, information and resources to help them.