Your spine is a complex system of bones, ligaments, muscles, and nerves that interlock in an intricate pattern that allows for rigidity and flexibility at the same time. To pull off this amazing biological feat, it contains gentle curves that slope from front to back from your neck to your spine, but it’s stick-straight when viewed from behind — unless you have scoliosis.
Side-to-side curvature compromises your spine’s ability to hold you upright. At the least, it causes a noticeable imbalance in your posture, hip height, and shoulder angles. At most, it leads to back pain, difficulty walking, and breathing problems.
Treating scoliosis takes an experienced specialist like Dr. Patrick McNulty at McNulty Spine in Las Vegas and Henderson, Nevada. Dr. McNulty, our double board-certified, award-winning orthopedic spine surgeon, treats children and adults who suffer from all types and stages of scoliosis. Here’s what you should know about this spinal condition as you explore the treatments that may be right for you or your child.
Types of scoliosis
Knowing what made your spine curve into a C- or S-shape is critical when it comes to treating your scoliosis. In general, scoliosis falls into one of four main types.
Spinal curvatures that develop in the womb are considered congenital scoliosis. Though not very common, congenital scoliosis affects one out of every 10,000 babies. This occurs when the vertebrae don’t form correctly, there are missing bones, or bones develop incompletely.
Even if your spinal bones are perfectly healthy, problems with your nerves and muscles in the area can cause your spine to curve. This is called neuromuscular scoliosis, and it’s often attributed to other health conditions, such as spina bifida, cerebral palsy, polio, or muscular, dystrophy. It typically progresses throughout your life and makes it difficult or impossible to walk in later stages.
If your spine was fine when you were a child, but scoliosis appeared in adulthood, it’s likely due to age-related disc problems. Called degenerative scoliosis, this type progresses as your discs and vertebrae degrade, causing a curve to one side, like a C.
By far the most common type of scoliosis, idiopathic scoliosis (the type with an unknown cause) affects up to 3% of children every year. It can occur during infancy, early childhood, or adolescence, and tends to affect more girls than boys.
The best treatments for scoliosis
Mild cases of scoliosis may be unnoticeable and asymptomatic, but Dr. McNulty’s well-trained eye can detect even the slightest spinal curvature. Because scoliosis is progressive, early treatment can save you a lot of pain down the road.
The best treatments for any spinal condition are always the least invasive, most conservative options. When possible, Dr. McNulty treats scoliosis with a wait-and-see approach. He may also recommend external bracing to support the spine and guide development during growth spurts.
The Tether™ system is an FDA-approved treatment for scoliosis in children and adolescents that uses their growth process as part of the treatment. Often described as an internal brace, this system anchors small posts into the vertebrae on the outside of the spinal curve and applies tension with a connected tether that gradually pulls the spine back into a straight position — much like dental braces do for teeth. The best news is that your spine remains flexible during the treatment.
Not all doctors are qualified to perform this revolutionary procedure — Dr. McNulty is one of the few. If external bracing doesn’t provide enough improvement, but you want to avoid surgery, talk to Dr. McNulty to find out if The Tether is an option for you.
Spinal fusion surgery
If your scoliosis is severe, causing problems with movement and breathing, and isn’t responding to other treatments, spinal fusion surgery may be necessary. Here, Dr. McNulty places metal rods on either side of the affected part of your spine. Held in place by screws and cables, these devices can:
- Permanently straighten your scoliotic curve
- Increase your spinal stability
- Stop all movement of your vertebral joints
- Reduce pain
Dr. McNulty always performs spinal fusion using minimally invasive techniques whenever possible, but some severe cases require traditional open surgery. Either way, you can rest assured that your spine is in expert hands with Dr. McNulty.
You can expect to wear a brace after your surgery until your spine heals and the bone graft takes hold. Although you may engage in physical therapy and normal daily activities in a month or two, it may take up to three years for your spinal fusion to mature and heal completely.
Treat scoliosis now
If you or your child has scoliosis, the best time to seek treatment is now, and the best doctor for the job is Dr. McNulty. To schedule an appointment to find out which treatment is right for you, call our friendly staff in Henderson or Las Vegas, or request a consultation using our online booking tool today.