Scoliosis is a condition that causes a sideways curve of the spine (backbone). These spinal curves are often S- or C-shaped. Scoliosis is most common in late childhood and the early teens, when children grow fast. Girls are more likely to develop it than boys. The condition can also run in families.
Signs and symptoms of scoliosis include uneven shoulders, one shoulder blade that appears more prominent than the other, an uneven waist, one hip that is higher than the other, one side of the rib cage that juts forward, and a prominence on one side of the back when bending forward. Consult a doctor if you observe these signs and symptoms in your child.
The cause of most cases of childhood scoliosis is unknown. Researchers and doctors think that a combination of factors plays a role in the development of the disease. These include genes, hormones, and changes in cell structure.
For some children, scoliosis develops when another disease or disorder, or trauma causes the spine to curve. These include congenital factors, which happen during the development of the spine when the baby is in the womb, leading to a curve in the spine; genetic diseases, which happen when changes occur in one or more genes; injury to the spine, usually from trauma to the spine or back; neuromuscular diseases, which affect the nerves that send messages to muscles, leading to muscle weakness and loss; and tumors, which can cause physical changes to the spine.
X-rays are usually done to monitor whether the curve in children with mild scoliosis is worsening. In many cases, no treatment is necessary. Doctors recommend treatment for scoliosis based on the locations of the curve; if the curve is mild, moderate, or severe; if the curve causes symptoms; and if your child or teen is still growing.
While most cases are mild, some spinal curves worsen as children grow. Treatment options include observation, bracing to stop the curve from worsening and surgery to straighten severe curves. The doctor may recommend physical therapy to help strengthen muscles. Treatment goals may include stopping or slowing the curve in the spine from progressing; preventing or decreasing pain; preventing or managing any respiratory problems that may develop due to the curve; helping improve posture; and helping improve quality of life.
A local study published in 2020 observed uneven shoulders in grade 6 students who weighed less than 50 kilograms (110 pounds) as a result of carrying heavy school bags for at least 5–10 minutes per day. Fifty-eight grade 6 students of a private school in northern Luzon were included in the study. The majority were 12 years old, with more boys below five feet in height. Most carried school bags that weigh 3–4 kg (6.6-8.8 pounds).
“There is a potential risk of adolescent idiopathic (of unknown cause) scoliosis among the 6th grader participants in two existing aspects: the postural deviation (shoulder asymmetry) and the repetitive carrying of heavy school bags,” the study authors said.
To prevent complications and disability, they recommended the integration of scoliosis screening in the primary healthcare services of school health programs in the country. They noted that most developed countries, particularly the US, implement scoliosis screening in schools to promote early detection and treatment so that surgery is avoided.
The symptoms among adults are similar to the symptoms experienced by children. Back pain, on the other hand, is more commonly experienced by adults. The UK National Health Services recommends discussing these potential treatments with a doctor: pain relievers for back pain, spinal injections, back braces, or surgery for some adults.
There are an estimated 3 million Filipinos with scoliosis based on data gathered by the Scoliosis Research Society. Through the advocacy of Scoliosis Philippines led by its founder Amanda Bonife-Kiamko, President Rodrigo R. Duterte in 2016 signed Proclamation No. 620 declaring June of every year as Scoliosis Awareness Month to raise awareness on the disorder and promote its early detection.
Teodoro B. Padilla is the executive director of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), which represents the biopharmaceutical medicines and vaccines industry in the country. Its members are at the forefront of research and development efforts for COVID-19 and other diseases that affect Filipinos.