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Scoliosis Awareness Month: Straighten Your Mindset While You Straighten Your Back

This Scoliosis Awareness Month–which takes place every June–it is important to remember that this condition not only affects the spine, but it also affects the mind. A scoliosis diagnosis can lead to negative thoughts and, if you let them run, can snowball into anxiety and depression. 

What Is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine. A healthy spine has three curves:

  • Lordosis–a slight curving toward the front of the body–in the neck (cervical spine)
  • Kyphosis–a slight curving toward the back of the body–in the thoracic spine
  • Lordosis in the lower back (lumbar spine)

However, if viewed directly from the back, a healthy spine is more or less straight up and down, perpendicular to the ground. In scoliosis, the spine curves to the left or right in addition to the normal kyphotic and lordotic curvatures. 

Physical Symptoms of Scoliosis

Many people with scoliosis report no symptoms other than cosmetic. Scoliosis may cause a visible disorder, but it is usually not painful. 

Symptoms are usually visual in nature, meaning they can be seen. These may include: 

  • Rounded shoulders
  • Sway back
  • Asymmetrical chest
  • One leg appearing to be shorter than the other

More serious symptoms are rare, but can include: 

  • Back pain
  • Tingling or numbness in the legs
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty breathing

Serious symptoms appear generally in severe and untreated cases of scoliosis only. As a rule, scoliosis is a cosmetic deformity with few other physical symptoms.

Scoliosis and Mental Health

Although scoliosis usually causes few problems physically, the same cannot be said for mental and emotional conditions. A 2016 literature review details the mental health impact of scoliosis. 

According to numerous studies cited in the review, people with scoliosis have a higher rate of the following mental health conditions or quality-of-life issues:

  • Lower rate of social participation
  • Lower rates of marriage
  • Poor self-image
  • Negative self-talk 
  • Difficulties finding and keeping jobs
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Personality disorders

One 2014 study of 19-year-old Korean males even showed a higher incidence of schizophrenia than the general population. 

Scoliosis Treatment

The most severe cases of scoliosis are usually treated with back braces or spinal fusion surgery, but even these treatments can have effects on mental health, especially in children and adolescents.

A 2010 study found an association with multiple surgeries and abnormal behavior–aggression, rule-breaking and misconduct–in  34 children. Another found high levels of neuroticism in people who have had surgery versus people who have had conservative treatment and the general population. 

At Edison Spine Center, we follow a conservative treatment philosophy: We don’t operate unless it is absolutely necessary. If you or child has scoliosis that is affecting quality of life, request an appointment with us. We can recommend various nonoperative treatments that can greatly improve health–both of the spine and of the mind.