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