Urban legend has it that kids carrying heavy backpacks to one side will develop scoliosis (curvature of the spine). Whilst there is no connection to backpacks and scoliosis, it is a condition that affects 2-3% of the US population.
Scoliosis is a three dimensional deformity of the spine. Remember those school physicals where the Nurse looked at your back whilst you touched your toes? What the Nurse was looking for was whether your spine was nice and straight or whether your ribs had rotated to one side causing a slight hump to your back.
Who’s at risk?
People are commonly diagnosed with scoliosis between the ages of 10-15. Both boys and girls are affected by this condition but girls are 8 times more likely to develop scoliosis that will require medical intervention such as bracing or surgery.
Many cases are minor and just require check-ups to ensure that a slight curvature is not getting worse. In mild cases, a wait-and-see approach is often advised.
However, those patients who have 20–40 degrees of scoliosis often wear a brace to help prevent the progression of the curvature. But in some cases surgery is the only option to prevent further complications that can lead to life long pain and compromised heart and lung function.
The problem, until recently, has been in trying to establish a) who will develop scoliosis and then b) understanding which patients will develop serious scoliosis that will need surgery. There really has been no way of telling, at the initial stages, what the prognosis will be… until now..
Scientists have been able to establish that genetics holds the key to this puzzle. Genetics really is the only known risk factor for scoliosis. Using their knowledge of human DNA, scientists have discovered 53 genetic markers that can predict the occurrence and severity of scoliosis .. simply by a bit of spit.
What does this mean for the patient?
Instead of putting a child in a back brace for much of their adolescence and taking a wait-and-see approach, Doctors can decide much earlier on whether surgery is necessary. This means that patients are able to opt for immediate intervention, recover and get on with being an ordinary child who can run around, go to gym club and get involved in the same things as their friends.