Friday, March 21, 2008

Dangerous Curve

Did your mother ever nag you to "stand up straight?" Well, that's because she cared about you. What was annoying to mom was the "slumping" posture, so common in our teenage years. But if she had noticed a "side bend" to your spine, she probably wouldn't have nagged at all. She would have taken you to a physician or doctor of chiropractic. And the chances are, that professional would have told you that you had scoliosis.
There are two basic types of abnormal curvatures. First, the curve may be on a long "C" shaped bend. This was common with those youngsters who contracted polio in the 1950s, primarily because of weak muscles on one side of the spine. The second type of scoliosis is an "S" shape, where the curve "zigs" to one side, then "zags" to the other. The real issue about these curves is, how much do they curve? If your spine is only a little curved, like a slightly bent flag pole, there is probably nothing to worry about with chiropractic checkups. But if it resembles the Snake River in Idaho, it's time for a comprehensive exam.
Scoliosis is not a death sentence, but it can be a significant health challenge. If the abnormal curvatures worsen, the spine can twist and interfere with the nerves coming out between the vertebrae, or spinal bones, as well as just plain hurt. The lungs and diaphragm can be crowded, making breathing more difficult.
Scoliosis appears sometime in childhood, usually between age 6 up to the beginning of puberty. Since it's painless, the problem can easily go undetected at first. Visual screening programs at schools have been very valuable in diagnosis, but a definitive diagnosis must be done with a standing full-spine X-ray. Your doctor will measure the curve. A curve that is only mildly "leaning" probably has an angle of 20 degrees or less, and usually does not need treatment at all. Doctors measure the angle of the curves by comparing the "flag pole" position of zero degrees of curvature to the horizontal, or parallel to the floor position of 90 degrees. If the curve is greater than 20 degrees, advice regarding treatment is important. Angles greater than 45 degrees are considered serious enough that surgery IS an option.

In cases of scoliosis, chiropractic physicians are front-line doctors in maintaining proper motion and function of the spinal joints or vertebrae. There are two general categories of techniques used in these cases. One is the hallmark joint manipulation or adjustment, which stretches the joint tissue and releases joint pressure wherever individual vertebrae are locked or fixed. A second category includes muscle and tendon techniques, usually using deep pressure, friction or pin-point stimulation.
When scoliosis is severe, chiropractic treatment is even more important because of the threat of muscle and joint degeneration that insidiously occurs over time. One cause of mild to moderate scoliosis is when one leg is shorter than the other. Chiropractic doctors are especially trained to deal with complications of curvatures associated with leg inequality. Sometimes one leg can be shorter (an inch or more) congenitally, with the associated curvature noted especially with standing. But a lesser known, yet common problem is a functional short leg. This is when locking and fixation of spinal joints, or muscle imbalance, actually causes or aggravates a mild scoliosis. Chiropractors are the best practitioners to identify and correct this problem.

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