Scoliosis Pain

What is scoliosis pain?

Scoliosis is a medical condition that causes the misalignment and/or rotation of the vertebrae to result in deformity of the spinal column and compression of the spinal cord or nerve roots. A potentially crippling disease, scoliosis affects over 2% of the American population and may affect any portion of the spinal column although the thoracic and lumbar spine are more commonly involved.

The disease is usually diagnosed in pre-adolescent children, mostly young girls, and can be so severe as to affect the development and function of other vital organs including the heart, lung, liver, or kidneys.

Scoliosis gradually crowds and compresses the spinal cord or nerve roots in the spinal canal, resulting in severe damage to the central nervous system structures. Symptoms include severe pain, numbness of the upper or lower extremities, loss of muscle strength, loss of sexual function, bowel or urinary incontinence, and deformity of the neck, upper or lower back. Pain may be sudden or gradual onset and is felt in the neck, mid or low back and can be aggravated by movement or prolonged sitting, standing or walking.

What causes scoliosis pain?

Scoliosis is typically from a congenital deformity from birth or is idiopathic, which means the cause is unknown.

Some idiopathic forms of scoliosis may be acquired after an acute injury or progressive deterioration of the spinal vertebral column over time from degenerative disc disease or degenerative joint disease of the spine. Acquired scoliosis may be a result of an acute vertebral fracture, or osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease) of the joints or the spine (facet joints), which cause spinal vertebrae to become deformed, rotated or misaligned.

How to treat scoliosis pain

As with most diseases of the spinal column, there is no cure for scoliosis. Bracing the back is considered necessary in some cases of pre-adolescent scoliosis to prevent progression of the disease.

The standard treatments for scoliosis pain are over-the-counter pain medication, prescription narcotic and non-narcotic pain medication, rest, physical therapy, steroid injections, and traction. These treatments are typically not sufficient and, in the case of oral medication, have serious side effects such as sedation, nausea, constipation, and addiction. Extended use of over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and acetaminophen, can cause stomach ulcers and kidney, heart, or liver failure. Surgery may be required if the pain does not resolve or when severe nerve damage is evident.

Sudden severe pain, especially in the chest, arms, or head, pain associated with fever, numbness or weakness, or pain in any area of the body that does not resolve after a couple of weeks, should always be evaluated by a physician to be certain that other medical conditions, including heart disease, stroke, infections, or even cancer is not the underlying cause of pain.

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