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 the condition often occurs in young, premenstrual girls, but 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 that 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. This can make it particularly difficult to catch in the early stages unless the person is examined by an expert, 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, 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 the 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 with at least some pain. Because of the progressive nature of the condition, adults with scoliosis will usually experience pain that gets worse as they get older. This is usually a result of compression, as an adult’s spine has finished growing and 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.
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 specifically designed to improve core strength and strengthen the muscles that support 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, however, 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) hits a certain age and is suffering from pain, stiffness, cosmetic issues, and other symptoms, surgery may be the most effective treatment option.
The best kind of surgery will depend on the individual case, but the most common operation is a posterior spinal fusion and instrumentation. In this procedure, doctors surgically correct the curve of the spine and fuse together two or more vertebrae using bone grafts and instrumentation (screws, rods, hooks, etc.) in order to stabilize it.
How is mild scoliosis diagnosed?
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 be seen by a practitioner who specializes in these kinds of complex spine conditions.
All of the board-certified orthopedic surgeons at Southwest Scoliosis Institute are experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of scoliosis. 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 scoliosis is suspected, 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 or 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 over time.
If you or your loved one is suffering from degenerative disc disease, a herniated disc, or another complex spine condition, there is hope. We can help. Call Southwest Scoliosis Institute at 214-556-0555 to make an appointment today.