Scoliosis: Early treatment can be a lifesaver

Imagine your child has constant back pain and can’t run, ride a bike, go to a school dance or even stand up straight.

Imagine your child has constant back pain and can’t run, ride a bike, go to a school dance or even stand up straight.

That’s the situation Gina Heydorf found herself in three years ago, when doctors discovered a hump on her daughter Kayla’s shoulder. They were referred to John R. Dimar II, M.D., orthopaedic spine surgeon with Norton Leatherman Spine Center. Dr. Dimar diagnosed Kayla, then 11 years old, with scoliosis and said the preteen would need surgery to fix it.

Scoliosis, a condition that causes the spine to curve sideways, affects about 2 percent of girls and .5 percent of boys and is most common in those over age 10. Minor cases need little to no treatment, if properly monitored. For more severe cases, brace or surgical treatment can correct the condition and reduce long-term effects.

Faced with the prospect of surgery, Kayla and her family decided to put off the procedure, thinking a delay would not matter much. They were wrong.

“Kayla started having immense pain and couldn’t stand up straight,” Heydorf said. “We had no idea that her condition would get worse so quickly.”

It did. When Kayla was 11, her spine had one 65-degree curve. As she approached 13, that curve had reached 125 degrees and a simultaneous roundback deformity.

“We went back to schedule the surgery and were told her condition had become much more critical,” Heydorf said.

Dr. Dimar confirmed the severity of the situation.

“Kayla’s curve would likely have continued to progress, which could have severely damaged her heart and lungs later in life,” he said.

Three years and three surgeries later, Kayla, now 16, is trying to get back to being a teenager, but it hasn’t been easy. She can drive, but has trouble looking over her shoulder. She can run and ride a bike, but can’t do other adventurous activities like riding roller coasters.

Her condition also took a strong emotional toll on her.

If you answer yes to any of these questions, or if your child has a brother, sister, parent or other close relative with scoliosis, visit Norton Leatherman Spine for more information.

“Kayla went through some serious depression and anxiety,” Heydorf said. “Her friends didn’t know how to handle the situation and they became distant. She also lost a year of school.

After the surgeries, the curve in Kayla’s spine has improved from 125 degrees to 45 degrees. The spinal correction also made her almost 5 inches taller.

“Kayla has made some tremendous progress and should live a fairly normal life,” Dr. Dimar said. “However, her situation illustrates why early identification and treatment of scoliosis are so important. Kayla likely would have been spared multiple surgeries had her condition been treated when it was first discovered.”

Heydorf agrees.

“Had we known Kayla’s situation would deteriorate so quickly, we never would’ve have waited so long,” she said. “If you suspect your child has an issue, take action right now. It could save their life.”

Children were regularly screened for scoliosis in middle and junior high school, but Kentucky has discontinued this service. Now, parents need to insist that their primary care providers screen their children when they have their annual physicals during their adolescent growth spurts starting at age 10.

Here are some things parents can watch out for:

  • Is one of your child’s shoulders higher than the other?
  • Does one shoulder blade stick out more than the other?
  • Does one hip seem higher or stick out more than the other?
  • Do you notice a larger crease at one side of the waist than the other side?
  • Have your child stand with the arms hanging down loosely at the sides. Do you notice a larger space between the arm and the body on one side? Have your child bend forward with the arms hanging down loosely. The hands should be held even, with palms touching, at about the level of the knees.
    • Do you see a hump in the rib area?
    • Do the hips or waist seem higher on one side?

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