Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis (AIS)
Every so often, a concerned parent brings their child in to see the chiropractor asking about an apparently abnormal curve or ‘crooked’ appearance to their child’s spine.
Abnormal spinal curvatures, known as scoliosis, fall into two major categories: The first is structural, which is caused by abnormalities of spinal bones or joints. The second is functional, which is an abnormal curve that exists without abnormalities of bone or joint. A functional scoliosis may be caused by muscular imbalances or pain, for example. Functional scoliosis is reversible, while structural scoliosis is not.
The most common form of structural scoliosis is known as Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis (AIS). AIS usually affects females ten years of age and older. It is not known why some individuals develop this condition and others do not.
A critical period occurs between the ages of about 12-16 during the most rapid phase of growth. In children with a scoliosis, ongoing monitoring is very important during this phase because curve progression can be rapid. X-ray is a very important tool used to determine the severity of a scoliosis and monitor its progression. A curve that causes only minimal cosmetic deformity, visible to the eye can actually be quite severe when seen with an x-ray.
Once growth is completed, curves typically progress only minimally and at a much slower rate. However, problems can still arise into adulthood from abnormal wear and tear on the spinal bones and strain on back muscles. This can lead to back pain and/or nerve pain as we age.
Parents and coaches such as dance or gymnastics instructors are perfectly positioned to notice unusual posture such as unequal shoulder heights. In fact, it is often a coach who brings this to the attention of a parent, who then seeks the advice of a chiropractor. A chiropractor can determine from a simple in-office screening procedure whether the scoliosis is structural or functional and whether further investigation such as x-ray is necessary.
An old saying exists in Chiropractic: “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree”, meaning that we establish our health patterns early in life. Health in our adulthood depends on the foundation we build in our youth. In my opinion, the best gift a parent can give their child is a solid foundation of health for their future. It is never too early to start.
Written by Dr. Rebecca Patterson, B.A. (Hons.), D.C.