Navigating Scoliosis & Body Image Issues
Navigating Scoliosis & Body Image Issues
Living with scoliosis isn’t easy, particularly in severe cases. The condition is often absolutely devastating to the patient’s well-being and self-esteem. In such instances, scoliosis causes excruciating pain, leading to spine and/or respiratory complications that require surgery. Of course, this is in the absolute worst case scenario. It is not exactly common for the condition to advance to this stage. That being said, even mild cases of scoliosis may adversely affect the lives of the victims who suffer from it. These patients may not feel pain and they may not even require treatment. But, that doesn’t make the condition much easier with which to live.
Even in cases of mild scoliosis, the condition is likely to cause some degree of postural and symmetrical deformities. This fact is problematic for a number of reasons. However, the frontrunning issue here is that scoliosis affects the way these patients perceive their bodies. In other words, scoliosis negatively alters the patient’s body image. And, developing a negative body image may place a serious strain on one’s mental health. Unfortunately, this can lead to a host of other problems such as depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts.
The human race has been contending with scoliosis for a very long time. Thankfully, this also means that there have been many developments and advancements in modern medicine to remedy the condition. These days, scoliosis is very treatable and doctors often catch it early, before it evolves into a serious problem. So, if you have scoliosis, just know that there are great treatment options out there for you. In time, you will be able to return to a state of normalcy.
What Is Scoliosis?
First of all, there are several different manifestations of this condition. These subcategories are easily broken down based on the origin of scoliosis and the affected age group. For example, adult scoliosis is much less common than pediatric scoliosis. This is because scoliosis typically develops during the growth spurts of puberty. Additionally, doctors may classify scoliosis as either congenital or idiopathic. The former describes a scenario in which the scoliosis is present at birth, while the latter refers to cases in which the cause of the condition remains unknown.
A normal, healthy spine has a natural curvature to it. With scoliosis, an unnatural sideways curve (typically an “S” or a “C” shape) develops. It is important to note that this unnatural curve varies in severity on a case-by-case basis. For example, mild instances of scoliosis involve a curve of less than 20 degrees. On the other hand, moderate cases involve a curvature that falls between 25 to 40 degrees. Lastly, severe scoliotic curves measure in at 50 degrees or higher.
To diagnose scoliosis, your doctor will begin by carefully examining your medical history. This typically involves asking a series of questions about recent periods of spinal growth. Usually, a physical exam will follow. During this investigation, the doctor will ask the patient to bend downward at the waist with their arms hanging loose. This will reveal any bodily asymmetries if they are present.
If necessary, your doctor may order neurological exams and/or imaging tests to confirm his or her diagnosis. The former assesses muscle weakness, numbness, and reflex abnormalities while the latter can confirm any underlying problems such as spinal tumors.
How Scoliosis Affects Body Image
Sadly, people of all age groups can suffer from body image issues. The problem, however, is much more pervasive among adolescents. Mind you, this is true regardless of whether or not you factor scoliosis into the equation. Many people who suffer from no appearance-altering medical conditions still contend with body image issues. So, when you take the most affected age group (adolescents) and compound that with the largest number of new scoliosis cases, the situation becomes that much more severe.
Adolescents have it particularly rough because many of their cohort members have yet to develop acceptance of the differences that exist from individual to individual. Those with scoliosis may already have a low sense of self-esteem because of their medical condition. Prospective bullies only make that situation worse. In addition, young teens often feel like they don’t have a proper outlet to vent their frustrations. This causes them to keep their feelings bottled inside. Because some teens become experts at hiding their emotions, it can make it harder for them to seek out the help that they need.
Of course, body image issues are a pervasive problem. Just as adults may fall victim to scoliosis, they may also view themselves negatively every time they look in the mirror. It doesn’t help that our culture also idolizes physical perfection. This can lead some to believe that the only way to be happy and loved is to develop a perfect physique.
There are both conservative and surgical treatment options available for scoliosis. When it comes to the conservative, doctors often rely on back braces more than anything else. Back braces are effective for patients who are still growing. In fact, these braces can actually halt the progression of the curve. However, they cannot reverse it. Nevertheless, some patients may be self-conscious about wearing a brace, serving to negatively distort their body image even further.
The most effective treatment for dealing with comorbid mental health issues (such as depression and anxiety) is cognitive behavioral therapy. This is a widely utilized form of talk therapy in which you will work with a therapist over a series of timed sessions. The goal of this treatment is to make the patient more aware of their negative thinking patterns. After awareness comes modification. The therapist equips the patient with tried-and-true coping strategies to combat maladaptive behaviors.
If you have severe scoliosis, your doctor may suggest surgery to correct the problem. To correct this issue, doctors often employ spinal fusion surgery (and to great effect). During this operation, your surgeon will fuse two or more vertebrae together to enhance spinal stability. He or she will also place pieces of bone or artificial material in between the vertebrae, as well as metal rods, screws, hooks, or wires to hold the spine straight. Securing the bones in such a manner allows for the fusion to occur more easily.
Additionally, for adolescent patients with significant growing left to do, the surgeon may also use scoliosis growing rods that adjust in length as the child ages. Every six months, the patient returns to have the rods lengthened (typically with an external magnet).
Are you or your child suffering from scoliosis? If so, you should contact our practice at (855) 220-5966. Dr. Jason E. Lowenstein sets the industry standard for his expertise in the field of scoliosis and spinal deformity care. You don’t have to live your life with chronic pain and body asymmetry. Our team of experts will work tirelessly to ensure that you or your child are put on a care plan that serves your specific needs. Don’t hesitate, contact us today!