Spine curvature disorders affect millions of Americans, but many people still don’t understand what curvature is, what causes it or how it can be treated. If you’ve been recently diagnosed with some sort of curvature, such as scoliosis, the fear about what comes next can be gripping. We’ve created the following patient’s guide to spinal curvature disorders to help give a clearer understanding of these conditions and hopefully dispel some of the confusion. We’ll explore the various causes of spinal curvature disorders, as well as the different types of curvature we deal with. We’ll also about ways we can treat these disorders, both to correct the curve and/or to minimize the pain.
What Are Spinal Curvature Disorders, and What Causes Them?
We’ve often heard the term “curvature of the spine,” but this term is a bit misleading because all healthy spines actually have some curve to them. What we refer to as “curvature of the spine” actually refers to spines that curve too far in a certain direction, or in a direction they’re not intended to go. “Spinal curvature disorders” is a better term because it suggests the wrong type of curve, which can cause pain, mobility problems and other issues.
For all the research conducted on this question, there’s still a lot the medical community doesn’t know as to how or why curvature disorders happen. Here’s what we do know:
- Many curvature disorders are congenital — that is, they begin at birth.
- Some curvature disorders occur in adults. It’s more rare than congenital forms, but it does happen.
- Some curvature disorders are caused by our behaviors — which means they are also preventable.
- Some curvature disorders may be hereditary — related to genetic code.
- For some curvature disorders, we simply don’t know the cause. (We call these “idiopathic” curatures.)
Overview of Types of Spinal Curvature Disorders
Curvature disorders fall into three categories, based on where and how the spine curves. Let’s explore these briefly.
Scoliosis. By far the most common and best known types of curvature, scoliosis happens when the spine begins to curve to the left or right (sometimes in the shape of an “S”). It occurs most frequently in children and adolescents, but adults can also develop scoliosis later in life, either due to degeneration due to age and bad posture or for ideopathic reasons. Scoliosis in children is not preventable, but adults may be able to prevent adult degenerative scoliosis by changing certain behaviors. Scoliosis may be treated by posture corrections, bracing or surgery, depending on the severity. This article dispels some common myths about scoliosis.
Kyphosis. Kyphosis involves a forward bending or “rounding” of the spine, most frequently around the shoulders, creating a hunchback effect. Like scoliosis, some instances of kyphosis are congenital or occur for unknown reasons, but in many other instances it occurs due to preventable factors like lack of exercise or bad posture over time. In these cases, some lifestyle changes can help prevent kyphosis, and even reverse it. In this interview with Dr. Thomas J. Morrison, he goes more into depth on the differences between scoliosis and kyphosis and the treatment options for each.
Lordosis. While kyphosis describes a spine that curves outward, lordosis describes one that curves inward. This creates what we commonly call “swayback,” in which the spinal curve moves too far inward, frequently causing the buttocks to protrude. Lordosis can occur in people of any age and is usually caused by one of several possible factors, including other back conditions like spondylolisthesis or osteoporosis, injury and obesity. In the case of the latter, swayback can be prevented or reversed by losing weight. In other cases, it’s treated by treating the underlying cause.
At Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center, we utilize state-of-the-art techniques and treatment options for pain management and/or correction of spine curvature disorders. To learn more, give us a call at 404-256-2633.