Many students suffer spinal curvatureBad posture, heavy backpacks and chairs and desks unfit for the use of young students are bad for their backs. According to a recent study, 8 percent of middle and high school students’ backs are bent by 5 percent. The condition is called postradiation scoliosis, a curving and twisting of the spine.
The spine is the pillar of the body. When the pillar is unstable, it is obvious that other organs will be affected. Dr. Choi Won-gyu, the president of Wooridul Spine Hospital, and Dr. Kim Myung-jun provided the information for this article.
A healthy spine looks like the letter “S” from neck to waist when a person stands squarely on both feet. In addition, the left and right sides should be symmetric, and the shoulder line should be horizontal.
All a body’s organs are kept in place and function properly because of the support of the spine. It also acts as an axis for the nerves, which go from the brain through the spine to reach many parts of the body. Thus, when the spine is bent abnormally, pressure is applied on adjoining organs and nerves. This can create pain, and lower the ability of the organs to function. When the back is wrongly bent, the heart, stomach and intestines can be pressed upon, which can cause problems in blood circulation and digestion as well as muscle knots, fatigue and decline in concentration and memory.
In the long term, the organs can become twisted. Imbalances in the spinal muscles can cause pain and shortening of one leg, which can lead to degenerative arthritis. This can also result in lower back pain, shoulder pain and repositioning of the jaw.
Postradiation scoliosis frequently occurs in teenagers, before their frame stops growing. The rate of occurrence is 1.5 percent to 3 percent on average according to international statistics, but the rate is higher for Korean teenagers.
Postradiation scoliosis can be either nonstructural or structural. Nonstructural scoliosis is closely related to habit and posture, and is also called functional scoliosis. It can result from poor posture or repeated unbalanced activity such as always carrying heavy books or objects on one side. There are no problems in the bones, and the condition can be improved by improving one’s posture, stretching or wearing special braces.
Structural scoliosis is a result of structural abnormality and unequal growth of the two sides of the vertebra. Usually appearing between the ages of 10 and 18, the causes of structural scoliosis are not well understood by medical science.
One possible cause is an abnormality in the spine of the fetus during pregnancy. Some infants have triangular spines instead of normal square ones. One side of the spine does not grow, leading to curvature of the spine. However, structural scoliosis advances slowly, thus it is difficult to correct the abnormality.
Nonstructural scoliosis can be diagnosed by an X-ray. If the curvature is less than 30 degrees and it does not progress, it is important to prevent further deterioration by improving one’s posture and avoiding repeated unbalanced activity.
When there are two different curves formed in the spine, aggressive treatment is necessary, not just because of the effect on appearance, but also because of problems with body growth. If the height of the shoulder blades and shoulders differs, one side of the back protrudes, or if the sizes of a woman’s breasts look different, surgery can be necessary. This degree of deformity can interfere with body growth, cause abnormality in the development of the chest, and can affect the functions of the heart and lungs.
Special braces and surgery are the most widely-used methods of treatment. Braces can provide back support and be therapeutic. Usually, 80 percent of treatments use braces alone. There are individual differences, but a person can wear a brace for up to 20 hours a day, until the body stops growing. There are different types of braces for different shapes of spinal curvature.
Surgery is needed when the curvature is more than 40 degrees. While the body is still growing, the threshold to require surgery is 40 degrees, but after a person’s growth is finished, it is 50 degrees.
by Ko Jong-kwon