Should I Worry About Mild or Slight Scoliosis?
When 21 years old, a movement/dance teacher assessed my gait, and what she called “alignment,” instead of “posture.” She reported no big issues, though she could see I did have some slight curvature – perhaps mild scoliosis – mid-back. Ah! I thought. I understand now why it’s been so painful to sit with my back against a chair.
Adolescent Growth, Concerned Parents
People often refer to “growing pains” that an adolescent experiences. This is literally true. Adolescents grow rapidly. I myself remember sitting in class during high school: my back aching, vertebrae rubbing against the wood of the seat, my sitz bones aching, and so on. Developing bodies experience these changes rapidly. It can be painful to both adolescent and parent. During the “growth spurt,” parents often worry the that their child’s body is growing in a healthy manner. When their child then, is diagnosed with “mild scoliosis,” they fret about any “abnormalities” and may imagine the worst of possible outcomes.
What is Mild Scoliosis?
The National Scoliosis Foundation (NSF) handles numerous phone calls like this from concerned parents wondering if treatment for scoliosis is necessary. NSF’s website describes this anxiety when their child is diagnosed with “mild scoliosis,” “They have been told that treatment is not presently necessary but may be in the future. Parents ask us, ‘are we to just stand by and watch our child become deformed?’”
Will Mild Scoliosis Become a Serious Issue?
This got me thinking. Although extreme scoliosis or kyphosis are, of course, more serious in nature, 1) does mild scoliosis contain potential for long-term repercussions, and how probable is it? and 2) can mild curvature be adjusted early to realign vertebrae back into normal position?
As usual, opinions vary on these questions. It depends on the discipline. Take, for example, a chiropractor’s viewpoint, and a medical doctor’s.
A Chiropractic Practice’s Viewpoint
The CLEAR Scoliosis Institute is a chiropractic clinic whose mission is, “to implement an effective chiropractic system of scoliosis care to help people worldwide through research and spinal rehabilitation….new research has begun to challenge [the] premise [of mild scoliosis’ harmlessness]….mild scoliosis can become a problem later in life, as small imbalances over time create wear and tear upon the joints and muscles.”
Among potential conditions they list are:
- Forward head posture, where the head is carried in front of the body, placing stress upon the muscles of the neck and back
- Alignment of the head, chest, and hips [become} ‘compensated,’
- Possible problems with balance, coordination, and proprioception (balancing on one leg with the eyes closed)
- Tension on spinal cord
- Changes in gait (walking), and reduction in normal counter-rotation of hips and shoulders
An Orthopedic Surgeon’s Viewpoint
In contrast, Dr. William P. Bunnell, in an interview by the NSF, addresses these issues quite differently. Dr. Bunnell is Chairman of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Loma Linda University Medical Center in Loma Linda, California. Some hIghlights of Dr. Brunner’s statements are below.
- 95% of mild curvatures do not require treatment
- Mild curvature is normal. He “looked at 1,000 high school students and found only 16 youngsters who had perfectly straight spines.”
- According to him, “There’s not an ounce of scientifically documented evidence that exercise or manipulation can reduce a curvature.”
Bone Age and Metrics
Doctors use a standard metric to determine one’s bone density, which thus, determines “bone age,” to help determine whether possible treatment will be needed later on in the person’s life. It’s an atlas called Radiographic Atlas of Skeletal Development of the Hand and Wrist, compiled by William Greulich and S. Pyle. The Greulich-Pyle book resource is an “intensive study [of] collected data on the maturation of human anatomy through the meticulous X-raying of a series of research subjects enrolled in the study as juveniles”.
Finding Accurate Information Isn’t Always Self-Evident
It’s understandable, then, why people get confused with this conflicting information. These examples are a good example of the importance of knowing what kind of resource you’re getting your information.
Notice, for example, how strong Dr. Bunnell is about the medical evidence for possible long-term problems with mild curvature. Though not directly, it does seem to be indirectly addressing those whose research states otherwise, like CLEAR.
When You Research
I won’t hazard a hypothesis about which position is “correct.” I merely point out that as one conducts personal research, keep in mind:
- Whose website is it: a neutral organization of medical professionals or a particular practice?
- How objective does the information seem to be presented?
- Is the study “sponsored” by, say, a pharmaceutical company, who may have conflicting financial interests?
- Note: trials and case studies are required to state this in their study. You can find this disclosure at the end of the research paper.
What We Believe
Though North American Spine is indeed a clinic, we are serious in the latest medical information. We want to utilize the latest and most recent research and technology for the benefit of the patient. “Good business” isn’t one based on skewing information to fit your own practice, but to use medical research as a guide to constantly improve healthcare.
I do indeed have mild scoliosis. Will it degenerate into a worse condition in the future? I’m not certain. But I’m neither terribly concerned about it, either.
You have a team of dedicated professionals available to you at North American Spine. So, contact us with your questions and concerns.
- ‘Mild Scoliosis | CLEAR Scoliosis Institute’. Clear Scoliosis Institute Blog. 2016. https://www.clear-institute.org/learning-about-scoliosis/types-of-scoliosis/mild-scoliosis/.
- ‘National Scoliosis Foundation’. Accessed October 1, 2016. http://www.scoliosis.org/resources/medicalupdates/mildcurvesqa.php.
- Greulich, William and S. Pyle. Radiographic Atlas of Skeletal Development of the Hand and Wrist. 1st ed. Amazon.com: All. U.S.: Stanford University Press, 1999. https://www.amazon.com/Radiographic-Atlas-Skeletal-Development-Wrist/dp/0804703981/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1475431888&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Gruelich+and+Pyle+Atlas.