Today’s teenagers and the Internet; they’re like moths to a flame. For adolescents suffering from scoliosis, the online community can be one of comforting support and hope. But unfortunately, especially when it comes to the facts about scoliosis, it’s also chalk-full of misinformation and sometimes, outright lies. After more than 20 years in practice as an orthopaedic spine surgeon specializing in scoliosis, I still have patients come to me with false or misguided information about the condition. In an effort to accurately educate and empower teenagers and their parents with reliable scoliosis information, below are some of the most common myths related to the condition and the important facts to dispel them.

You can prevent developing scoliosis. I’ve consoled countless tearful parents in my office, who wonder how they could have prevented their child’s scoliosis diagnosis. I tell them all the same thing: there are currently no reputable clinical or scientific studies to prove that scoliosis is preventable. In fact, most cases of the condition fall into the “idiopathic” category, which means the origin is unknown. When the origin isn’t known, it’s tough to assess prevention opportunities. While much research is underway to determine root causes and prevention opportunities for scoliosis, parents and patients shouldn’t beat themselves up about not being able to prevent it.

Heavy backpacks cause scoliosis. This is among the most common myths about scoliosis. Remember, most scoliosis cases, especially those diagnosed in children between the ages of 10-12 years old, are idiopathic. There has been quite a bit of debate in recent years to suggest that heavy backpacks are a root cause of scoliosis but no reputable, scientific evidence is currently available to support this claim. Of course, prolonged wearing of a heavy backpack isn’t good for posture or overall spine health. But this activity alone is not clinically shown to cause scoliosis.

If you have scoliosis, you’ll eventually become deformed. It is true that some cases of scoliosis will result in severe deformity. However, the vast majority will not. Often, those diagnosed with scoliosis based on an x-ray of the spine for something unrelated, didn’t even know they had the condition because it didn’t present any symptoms or visible deformity. For many teenagers with scoliosis, the curvature of the spine progresses very slowly over time and sometimes it doesn’t progress at all. When this is the case, simply watching and waiting is appropriate, and often the only necessary treatment approach.

Bracing, exercise, or some other alternative treatment methods can change or correct the abnormal degree of curvature in the spine. Most people, especially teenagers (and their parents) with scoliosis curves that require some form of medical attention don’t enjoy the idea of surgery. It’s a completely reasonable concern. But sadly, among the biggest myths I hear from patients when they come to me after they’ve attempted alternative therapies is that they thought their curve would be reversed by these efforts. The truth is that bracing, manipulation, exercise and other methods of alternative therapy don’t reverse spinal curvature. When properly employed, some techniques have been shown to stop or slow curve progression, and many can have a positive effect on back pain associated with severe scoliosis, but none have been clinically proven to ‘cure’ it.

As with most information on the Internet today, some sources are better than others. When researching scoliosis, seek sources of information that use clinical studies and data to support their claims. If some claims seem outrageous or “too good to be true,” they probably are. When in doubt, talk with your doctor about where you should look for the best, most reliable information. Once you have the information you’re looking for, be sure to consult with your physician first.

To learn more about scoliosis visit OrthoInfo.org

Spine center/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
Los Angeles, California

5 comments

  1. Brittney Lewellen

    I had spinal surgery at 12 years old for a curve of 54 degrees that progressed and kept progressing over a years time. I am 24 now with little hope for my spine. Chronic pain daily, a 2 year old and a 40 hour desk job. I’ve been denied for disability 3 times and feel as though I have only 6 to 7 years or less till I am in a wheel chair. I have state insurance and no real help for my progressing pain. I came across your site and would like to know how I could become a patient or get medical treatment if possible. I’ve seen many drs and non have been able to help my chronic pain without more pills for pain that have screwed my digestive system over along with my scoliosis, another surgery, or just flat out cant do anything for me. Anything would help or give me hope for a semi painless future, I no longer remember what it feels like to not be in pain. It doesn’t go away you just get use to living with it.

  2. felicity

    I have scoliosis really bad and it always hurts………………. I feel bad for the young kids that have it. I`m 12 years old. 😉

  3. Carol

    I have lived with scoliosis all of my life and I am 66 yr old. When I was 11 yrs old, Mom saw that my shoulder blade was sticking out more than the other one. So she took me to an Orthoepedic surgeon in Peoria, IL. It was at about 40 degrees, but they also found after taking x-rays, that I have a double curvature. My spine is like an S. Also showing in my lower back. They tried traction to attempt to straighten it in 1961. But it was not working, so my parents wanted another opinion before doing surgery. They took me to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. And it was confirmed that I needed 13 vertebrae fused. The Mayo Doctors suggested I would be able to have the surgery closer to home in Peoria at St Francis Hospital and their Orthopeodic Doctors at that time would perform the surgery and a 25 day stay in the hospital. 3 months before scheduled surgery, I was in traction and they applied a body cast that was wrapped around my body, from my chest to my hips. On June 8, 1962, surgery was started by fusing 6 vertebrae first, by using bone from my right hip bone. Then 7 days later, they completed the other 7 vertebrae with more bone from my hip. I was placed in a body cast for 6 more months. All summer I was in bed laying flat. Not allowed to get up for 6 months. I also had orthodontic braces on my teeth. So my orthodontist came out to our farm to make adjustments while I was in bed. I missed fall semester of 7th grade and was tutored for that semester. Then I had to learn to walk again and my legs were very weak from not walking. (There were no physical therapists at that time. ) It was my own determination and my Mom’s that kept me focused to move from the bed to the wheel chair to taking baby steps and walking again. After the body cast was removed at 9 mo. after surgery, I was then wearing a leather jacket that laced up my body. At least I could take it off when I went to bed to sleep. By the time I was graduating from 8th grade, I was almost back to normal. I would take PE (physical education) in high school like the rest of the girls in my school. We had baseball, tennis, running, exercises, but not allowed to get on the trapoline, or high diving, or any type of skiing. Oh yes, horse back riding, could present a problem if I fell from the horse.
    I have led a fairly normal life and have always been very active by playing golf, tennis, swimming, yoga, dancing, and hiking. I became a dental hygienist as my profession. And it has been a great career for me. Unfortunately, in 1994 I was in 2 car accidents where I was rear ended in 2 car accidents within a year This did create neck and upper back problems. So I altered my clinical career and transitioned into dental sales. And the last 15 years, I have worked with a dental consultant. I was married for a few years early in my 20’s. And have had a few great relationships after my divorce. So life has been good. I have traveled to Europe several times and enjoyed life. But I have taken care of my back, by exercise, yoga, chiropractic treatments and full body massage as I get older. I feel I have been blessed with a positive attitude to enjoy each new day. Most of all look forward to new goals and dreams. This is my story. And please contact me with any questions. I am a living story for living through life with scoliosis. I am not famous, like Shalaine Woodley (actress) or Stacy Lewis, professional golfer, but I have been an advanced professional in the dental industry.

  4. Jasmine Camacho

    My pediatrician found my scoliosis at the age of 13. It is idiopathic. We believe it formed around the time I hit puberty. I have severe scoliosis. It was controlled for about 2 and a half years after it was found by going to a chiropractor 3x a week, and eventually down to 1x a month. But it had gotten to severe, so we consulted with an orthopedic surgeon who said my only option at that point was corrective surgery. My curve was at 60 degrees before the surgery and after it was around 30. I live in pain every day. I know what can make it worse and I know what can help reduce it. I try to stay active by running and weight lifting. Abdominal exercises are what help the most. I am 23 now with my career just beginning. I hope to someday have children, and I have concerns about pregnancy and labor. But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Every morning when I get out of bed, my back/spine screams at me, reminding me what I have. I push through the pain every day, physically and mentally. I refuse to let my pain effect my life. I have refused to let my scoliosis keep me from doing the activities that I love. I try not to complain about my pain. I know it will always be there, but that day I was told why my back hurt all the time, I could have been given a worse diagnosis. I thank God, a curved spine was all it was.

  5. Anna Jorgenson

    I had scoliosis correction surgery in Colorado Springs 17 years ago at the age of 23. My curve had progressed to just past 40 degrees in the thoracic area of my spine. I had spinal fusion with the Miami Moss hardware from T3 to L1. Since then, I have had no problems at all – even through three pregnancies and unmedicated childbirths (no epidural – didn’t want to mess with my spine so I delivered naturally no meds). I’m now 40yo and my children are 7, 4, and 3. I feel so blessed that my surgery was successful. My surgeon was Dr. Richard Lazar, who unfortunately died in a skiing accident a few years ago. All doctors who have seen my scar and x-rays since my surgery have complimented me on how wonderfully my doctor corrected my curvature. I still have a curve, but probably about 15/20 degrees.

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