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Scoliosis is not a disease, but a term used to describe an abnormal, sideways curvature of the spine. The spine forms like an “S” or a “C”, rather than a straight line. In 80% of cases, the cause is unknown, hence the term idiopathic.

Idiopathic scoliosis can happen to anyone, depending on the age of presentation. The remaining 20% can present in the form of congenital (inborn), neuromuscular, or associated with Marfan’s syndrome (a hereditary disorder of connective tissue, characterised by abnormally long and thin fingers).

Studies have shown that the prevalence of scoliosis is three to four times higher in girls compared to boys. This could be because girls reach adolescence much earlier than boys.

The prevalence of scoliosis is also lower in children aged six to seven and nine to 10 years, but increased rapidly to 1.37% and 2.22% for girls at ages 11 to 12 and 13 to 14 respectively.

The scoliosis curve in the spine is usually first diagnosed during school health checks or a regular check-up with a paediatrician. In school, students may be given the Adam’s Forward Bend Test.

Doctors use a medical and family history, physical exam, and tests, when checking a person for scoliosis. X-rays or other screening tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), for neurologic pain and numbness may be performed.

Scoliosis Can Be Treated

Treatment for scoliosis in children usually involves observation for small degree curves, wearing back braces or undergoing scoliosis surgery. Wearing a back brace helps to prevent the curve from progressing, but it does not straighten the spine.

Scoliosis surgery, on the other hand, can do just that, but it does involve some risks:

• Neurological injury: There’s a risk of spinal cord injury during surgery, but the risk can be reduced with the use of a spinal cord monitoring system.

• Bleeding/blood loss and transfusion: This is managed through the use of hypotensive anaesthesia, a special operating table and medicines to reduce blood loss.

• Infection: Occurs in the wound closure during the recovery stage. It is prevented using antibiotics before, during and after the operation.

About three to six weeks after surgery, a child can already return to school, and after three to six months, can fully participate in any sport. Some lifestyle changes are required, such as eating a diet high in protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. It will help to enhance the re­building of muscle strength and tissue, as well as ensure healthy growth and development.

Tips And Advice For Parents

Early detection will help you learn and understand a lot more about the condition. A simple test like an Adam’s Forward Bending Test will detect an abnormal hump on the back. Once detected, treatment can start early and may negate the need for surgery.

Seek professional advice from the right specialist (e.g. orthopaedic surgeon). Your child deserves to achieve his/her fullest potential and live life without scoliosis to hold them back.

Datuk Dr Mohd Hisam Muhamad Ariffin is a consultant orthopaedic and spine surgeon. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, please e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my or visit www.mypositiveparenting.org. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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