Treating The Curvature In Your Child's Spine

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Your pediatrician has diagnosed your infant as having scoliosis. You have an appointment with an orthopaedic doctor to discuss treatment options. Treating the spinal curvature early in your child's physical development is important so they don't experience health problems that can last into their adult life. Here is why early treatment is so critical for your child and the various techniques used to help your child develop a straight spine.

Spinal Curvature and Rapid Bone Growth

During infancy, your child's bones grow at a rapid rate that continues until puberty. Then the growth rate slows down until their teens when bone growth maintains a pace that continues into their adult life. A tiny curve in your child's spine will become much more pronounced during these rapid growth years.

The curve is due to one or more vertebrae in the spine developing a wedge shape. The shape causes the spine to grow in the shape of an "S" instead of straight. During the rapid growth period, these bones continue to develop abnormally and the "S" shape can become exaggerated. This causes the length of the spine to be shorter than normal.

In some children, the spine develops a minor curve then stops. In others, the curve becomes so severe that it restricts the space in the chest cavity. Other organs will have difficulty developing normally, especially the lungs. Children with severe scoliosis can develop respiratory problems that follow them into their adult life.

Scoliosis Treatment Options

The orthopedic doctor will evaluate the severity of the spinal deformity and recommend an appropriate treatment option. If the curve is slight, non-invasive treatment may be sufficient to help your child's spine grow straight. If the vertebrae are already showing a severe wedge shape, surgery may be necessary to stop the collapse of the spine.

Treating Scoliosis with a Brace

These devices are worn constantly throughout your child's development. The brace is only removed to bathe your child or change diapers. Your child will likely need to wear the brace until puberty when the bone growth rate slows down. They may still need to wear the brace at night for several years to continue to support a straight spine.

The type of brace used depends on in which part of the spine the curve appears.

Thoraco-Lumbo-Sacral-Orthosis Brace

This brace extends from the top of your child's pelvis to just under their armpits. Referred to as the Boston brace, it is made by taking a mold of your child's body and creating a "clam shell" consisting of a front and back piece that are held together with straps. This type of brace is used for curves that appear in the lower and middle spine.

Cervico-Thoraco-Lumbo-Sacral-Orthosis Brace

Also known as the Milwaukee brace, this device extends from the pelvis to just under the chin. This brace is used to treat curves in the upper spine.

Surgical Treatment of Scoliosis

With this treatment, the orthopedic surgeon reshapes the wedge-shaped vertebrae to have a normal shape. Two or more vertebrae may be fused together to create a straighter spine. Flexible metal rods are attached to the sides of the vertebrae to hold the bones in place as they become solid. Your child will wear some type of brace after the surgery to make sure the spine remains rigid while it is healing.

The sooner treatment is started on your child's spine, the more likely it is that they will develop a straighter, healthier back and avoid any physical problems as a result of a crooked spine.