Has your child been diagnosed with scoliosis but you’re not sure what that means or what treatments are available?
Help is on the way! June is Scoliosis Awareness Month, and we took the opportunity to answer questions about this spinal disorder in a special Facebook live event. On June 21, pediatric scoliosis expert Dr. Richard C. E. Anderson from The Spine Hospital at the Neurological Institute of New York went live on Facebook to talk all about pediatric scoliosis—what it is, what to look for and how he treats it.
Scoliosis is an abnormal side-to-side curvature of the spine. It can occur at any age, from newborns to adults. But just because both children and adults can have scoliosis doesn’t mean they’re treated the same. Dr. Anderson is one of the leading pediatric surgeons in the tri-state area. He specializes in treating brain and spine disorders in children and is an expert in the unique challenges posed by a child’s spine. In fact, Dr. Anderson recently led a panel at the annual meeting of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), where he talked to general neurosurgeons about the challenges of treating pediatric patients.
A child’s spine is smaller than an adult’s, but it’s also more elastic and less stable. The joints are more shallow, and the discs that sit between the bones of the spine are more expansive than those of an adult, which gives the child’s spine a greater range of motion. Plus a child’s spine is still growing, sometimes rapidly.
These differences mean that any abnormal curvature that develops could quickly become problematic. It also means that when scoliosis is caught early, it can often be corrected. (You can read more about how a child’s spine is different than an adult’s here.)
Not only is scoliosis different in children and adults, it has different presentations and treatments depending on how old the child is when she develops a curve in her spine. Sometimes scoliosis is present at birth. This is called congenital scoliosis, and it doesn’t usually cause pain or difficulty for infants. If a baby has congenital scoliosis her doctor will track any changes in her spinal curves to make sure a problem doesn’t develop. Most congenital or infantile scoliosis goes away on its own.
When scoliosis starts a bit later, from ages 4–10, it’s called juvenile scoliosis. Scoliosis that starts in this age range is more likely to get worse instead of resolving on its own. During this time in a child’s life her spine is growing quickly, so any curve that develops often needs treatment to stop it from getting worse and to get the spine growing correctly again. Treatment at this age can involve a back brace or a cast, or sometimes surgery.
The most common type of scoliosis is called adolescent idiopathic scoliosis, and it shows up in pre-teens and teens, from 11–18. Besides being the most common form of scoliosis, it’s also the type with the best outlook—spinal curves in this group are less likely to get worse and become troublesome over time. There is an exception to this rule, however. If a teen has a large spinal curve it may have a greater likelihood of getting worse. Teens with moderate curves may respond well to bracing, while teens with severe curves may need surgery to correct the spine.
One of the questions Dr. Anderson says he gets most often is whether children with scoliosis can still play sports. The answer is yes, they can! In fact, he says that participating in sports can have many benefits for kids with scoliosis. He’s worked with many patients who are able to continue competitive sports, or just play for fun. There are even athletes with scoliosis who have competed in the Olympics. You can read more about what Dr. Anderson has to say about scoliosis and sports here. And watch the Facebook live video here.
And sometimes Dr. Anderson’s commitment to treating his patients takes an adventurous turn! A few years ago his work took him on a medical mission to Morocco. There he learned about a 17-year-old boy who was about to undergo surgery for a severe case of scoliosis. It was a particularly complex case, and the boy’s Moroccan neurosurgeon asked Dr. Anderson to consult with him. Dr. Anderson was able to suggest a better way to approach the surgery than the boy’s doctors had been planning. What followed was a wild ride from Marrakech to Casablanca, a successful surgery and a couscous feast. Read the incredible story here.
You can still see Dr. Anderson’s Facebook live interview about pediatric scoliosis. He may even have answered the questions you’re wondering about.
Where: Facebook page