As a parent of a teenager, you do your best to steer your kid in the right direction as they become more independent and start navigating social relationships, grades, career path choices, acne, and body image issues.
If you’ve noticed a curve in your daughter’s spine, you may need to add scoliosis to that list.
But don’t let the diagnosis scare you — or her. If you live in the Las Vegas or Henderson, Nevada, area, come see Dr. Patrick McNulty at McNulty Spine. A double-board-certified, award-winning orthopedic surgeon, Dr. McNulty is one of the country’s most sought-after spinal experts.
If your teenage daughter has scoliosis, here’s what Dr. McNulty wants you to know.
Get to know scoliosis
Simply put — scoliosis is an abnormal sideways curvature of the spine. Although it can happen to anyone at any age, it’s most common in adolescents. Scoliosis progresses more quickly in girls, so it’s important to keep a close eye on your daughter’s spine.
Even without looking at her spine, you can spot the signs of scoliosis:
- Tilted waistline
- Uneven shoulder height
- One protruding shoulder blade
- One hip bone is more prominent than the other
- The rib cage juts out on one side
Most cases of scoliosis are mild and don’t cause any complications, but if the condition progresses, it can become disabling, which is why it’s so important to consult with Dr. McNulty early.
If you’re a parent of a teenage girl, there are three things to keep in mind.
1. Scoliosis is not your daughter’s fault — and it’s not yours, either
If your daughter has scoliosis, it’s normal to want to know what caused it and if there was anything you could have done to prevent it. We want to be very clear here — scoliosis is no one’s fault.
Scoliosis isn’t caused by lugging around a heavy backpack, sleeping on the wrong mattress, or slouching at their desk. In rare cases, scoliosis can be a symptom of a neuromuscular condition, such as muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy, or it could be the result of an injury, infection, or birth defect, but it’s nothing you or your daughter did wrong.
In fact, the most common type of scoliosis is called adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) and accounts for about 80% of all cases in kids. Idiopathic means “no known cause.” About 4% of American teens have AIS, and about 3 million kids are diagnosed every year.
This means there’s nothing to feel guilty about, but it also means you need to be diligent in watching for symptoms of scoliosis when your daughter is between the ages of 10 and 18.
2. Scoliosis doesn’t have to define or limit your daughter
A scoliosis diagnosis doesn’t automatically mean that the condition will change or limit your child's life.
If your daughter has only a slight spinal curve, she can still participate in sports and be a typical teenager. It takes a curve of 10 degrees or more to warrant a scoliosis diagnosis, and there’s a wide range of curvature beyond that that doesn’t require treatment.
Some parents and patients worry about the way scoliosis will affect life beyond adolescence, and we understand your concerns. Rest assured, that with the right treatment, your daughter can enjoy a full and active life, including her choice of career paths and the ability to become pregnant and deliver a baby.
3. Scoliosis treatments make a big difference
After Dr. McNulty examines your daughter and determines the severity of her scoliosis, he either recommends close monitoring as she continues to grow or suggests a treatment. Only about 30% of adolescents with AIS require some form of treatment. For kids with a curvature of about 25-40 degrees, he typically recommends a brace to stop the progression of the curve.
For adolescents who are still growing, Dr. McNulty can treat scoliosis with an innovative device called a Tether™ Vertebral Body Tethering System, which corrects your child’s curved spine while still allowing them to move freely. With this FDA-approved system, Dr. McNulty places anchors into the vertebrae on the convex side and attaches polyethylene cords that create tension that gradually straightens the spine while it grows.
If surgery becomes necessary, Dr. McNulty may also perform spinal fusion to correct the curve using metal rods, your local bone, bone graft substitutes, bands, and screws. Only about 10% of kids with scoliosis need this surgery, and for those who do, the results are typically excellent.
The Tether system is relatively new, and may not be the optimal treatment. Traditional surgery is more predictable and gets better correction typically.
Dr. McNulty stresses that the earlier he diagnoses your daughter, the better her chances of a successful treatment that will correct her curved spine and enable her to participate fully in all she wants to do in life.
If you suspect your daughter has scoliosis, schedule a consultation with Dr. McNulty by calling either of our two offices or book it online.