In general, scoliosis cases fall into one of three categories: mild, moderate, and severe. Mild scoliosis is by far the most common form of the condition, affecting as much as 50% of the population. This form of Scoliosis often occurs in young, premenstrual girls. However, it can also occur in boys and even in adults of either gender. Specifically, the term mild scoliosis describes an abnormal “S” or “C” shaped curve in the spine. This curve measures over 10 degrees and less than 25. In those with curves measuring less than 20 degrees, the risk of progression is usually low (around 20%). However, when the curve passes 20 degrees, the likelihood that it will progress increases.
Symptoms of mild scoliosis, if present, are usually minor (meaning patients may or may not experience pain and discomfort). And, as a result, the condition often goes unnoticed. Particularly, this makes it difficult to catch in the early stages unless an expert examines the person, like the doctors at Southwest Scoliosis Institute, who specializes in these kinds of cases.
What does mild scoliosis look like?
Common outward characteristics associated with mild scoliosis cases include:
- Uneven hips, shoulders, and/or ribs
- Uneven leg lengths
- Slouching appearance due to forward head posture
- Changes in balance and coordination
- Clothing that appears to fit unevenly
Due to the fact that adolescents and teenagers are constantly growing and changing, it can be difficult for parents to realize when this growth and development gets out of the ordinary. Any one of these symptoms by itself could be chalked up to normal side effects of growing up, but if a child is experiencing two or more of the above conditions, they may be at risk for scoliosis.
Does mild scoliosis cause pain?
Whether scoliosis causes pain or not depends on a variety of factors, the main one being age. In children and adolescents who have mild scoliosis, their bodies are constantly changing and growing. During teenage growth spurts, especially, the spine grows upward and reduces the amount of compression on the vertebrae and spinal cord. As a result, most do not experience pain unless an abnormal curvature is severe.
However, though it is rare, some children and adolescents do experience pain, usually in the form of headaches, muscle pains, or pain in the back, neck, shoulders, or hips.
Cases in adults are much different and usually present some pain. Because of the progressive nature of the condition, adults with scoliosis will usually experience pain that increases with time. This is usually a result of compression, as an adult’s spine has finished growing. And, now there is no more upward growth to relieve the pressure caused by the abnormal curve.
Like some children, adults with scoliosis may experience muscle pain, headaches, and pain in the back, neck, shoulders, and hips. And due to the pressure on nerves and other tissues, they may also experience symptoms such as numbness, tingling, and discomfort in their arms, legs, and buttocks.
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How is scoliosis curvature measured?
The most important thing to keep in mind is that scoliosis is a progressive condition. That means that even if a case starts out mild, it can become severe over time. In some patients, the curve may remain small for a long period of time, but an abnormal spine curvature will not correct itself.
Determining the severity of the curvature is important, as is assessing its progression. To do that, doctors need to start by taking an accurate measurement of the curvature. This is often done via a series of tests, including bend tests (Adams’ Bend), observing gait and posture, as well as determining the Cobb angle, which is the most widely used measurement for scoliosis curves.
What is a Cobb angle?
A Cobb angle is measured using X-ray imaging to calculate the degree of how far the abnormal curve differs from normal alignment.
Cobb angle scale:
10-25 degrees – mild scoliosis
25-40 degrees – moderate scoliosis
40+ degrees – severe scoliosis
Mild Scoliosis Treatment Options
Mild scoliosis treatment almost always begins with conservative treatments like exercise, medical observation, and physical therapies. All these treatment options are helpful in improving the core strength and also, strengthening the muscles supporting the spine.
For some, stretching exercises and yoga can also help by reducing pain and increasing flexibility. This goes for both adolescents and adults.
In young people with curves that have progressed beyond 20-25 degrees, bracing and closer medical observation may be recommended to help prevent it from getting worse. Bracing is not an effective treatment for adults, because the spine is no longer growing and isn’t flexible anymore.
If the spine reaches a certain degree of curvature (40 degrees or more) or a patient with a moderate case of scoliosis (26-40 degrees) suffers from pain, stiffness, cosmetic issues, and other symptoms, surgery may be the most effective treatment option.
The type of surgery depends on each individual case. But the most common operation is a posterior spinal fusion using instrumentation. In this procedure, doctors surgically correct the spinal curve and fuse together two or more vertebrae using bone grafts and instrumentation. Instrumentation consists of screws, rods, hooks, etc. in order to stabilize the spine.
How to diagnose mild scoliosis?
Detecting mild scoliosis, especially in the early stages, can be difficult. That’s why if you think you or your child may have scoliosis, it is important to consult with one of our Orthopedic Doctors who specializes in these kinds of complex spine conditions.
All of the board-certified orthopedic surgeons at Southwest Scoliosis Institute are experienced in diagnosis and scoliosis treatment. They’ve helped more than 30,000 people – both children and adults – with cases ranging from mild to the most severe.
Our physicians, Dr. Richard Hostin, Dr. Shyam Kishan, and Dr. Kathryn Wiesman, start by performing a thorough physical examination. They will be sure to spend time going over the patient’s medical history and discussing any symptoms, as well as answering questions and addressing any specific concerns.
If the doctor suspects scoliosis, X-ray imaging is the next step. Using our state-of-the-art in-house EOS imaging system, we can quickly and conveniently take full-body, front and side-view images in both a standing and seated position. And because this imaging system uses less radiation than traditional X-rays or CT scans, it’s much better for use in children. In particular, those who require frequent imaging over time (such as those with mild scoliotic curves) benefit from not being administered unnecessarily large doses of radiation.
If you or your loved one is suffering from Mild Scoliosis or another complex spine condition, there is hope. We can help. Call Southwest Scoliosis Institute at 214-556-0555 to make an appointment today.