Is this scoliosis?
March 24, 2010 5:32 PM   Subscribe

Is this scoliosis? If so, what do I do?

First, I have a chiropractor (the sports PT type, not the holistic type) and a doctor. I am currently being treated by the chiropractor but plan on getting a second opinion from my doctor ASAP. I know you guys aren't my doctor, so don't worry.

I'm a 26 year old athletic male. Starting about four weeks ago the area between my shoulder blades began to hurt during sleep and in the mornings after waking up. Got better with ibuprofen and throughout the day. This week I went to the chiro and got some x-rays. Turns out that my spine is FUBAR.

Specifically, starting at the bottom of the thoracic spine and continuing to the middle of the cervical spine, the spine is bowing towards the right side of my body. No S shape, but just a bowing outwards by what looked to be a half inch to an inch from center. Is this scoliosis? If so, what do I do? The chiro wants me to continue to come back so he can adjust things back into place, obviously. He says it is very treatable and probably due to an old rugby injury or years of terrible posture.

The rehab exercises he gave me, along with the posture cues, have allowed me to sleep at night without waking up in pain so I feel like he may be on the right track.

Basically, I want MeFi to be my third opinion (possibly fourth, if my PCP sends me to a specialist). Any experiences with this? Are manual adjustments and rehab the way to go?
posted by Loto to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You don't need to have an s-shaped spine to have scoliosis. My son has a very slight scoliosis and sees a chiropractor for it. The adjustments, exercises, and soft-tissue work have been great for him (his pediatrician wanted to brace him). MeFi tends to be pretty anti-chiropractic but I have found that there are chiropractors and then there are chiropractors, and if you find one who does more than crack your back when you go in, then you're in good hands. Don't forget soft-tissue work though! It is a great complement to chiropractic. (I am a massage therapist.)
posted by headnsouth at 5:45 PM on March 24, 2010

Get an x-ray and have it looked at by your PCP. The chiro may be right (though I have ungenerous opinions of the chiropractic trade in general) but you should rule out the crazy stuff first.

I had (still have) one shoulder that's slightly but noticeably lower than the other, and the lower one aches toward the end of the day when I start to get tired. When I was about your age, my standard "hey doc, know what's wrong with my shoulder?" question at my annual physical finally got someone interested enough to look more closely into it. Turns out I have a bone bridge between two vertibrae on one side of my spine. As I grew, the spacing between that side couldn't grow with it, so now I have a slight sideways curve.

That's not your problem, I'm sure, since that would have occurred years ago and then stopped. I'm just saying, sometimes you have to have a specific complaint for the docs to look into for them to notice, and sometimes that doesn't even work the first time.
posted by ctmf at 5:53 PM on March 24, 2010

First off, don't be too alarmed -- chiropractors ALWAYS tell you that your spine is fubar. That's how they get you coming back for adjustments.

Scoliosis is usually idiopathic, so it can be caused/not caused by any number of things. Lots of people have a little bit of curvature, which isn't a big deal. It usually appears around puberty, so perhaps you've had it and are only noticing it now. If the curvature really did appear suddenly, then that's definite cause for concern, and you should go to a specialist.

In any case, go have your doctor check it out. I enjoyed going to the chiropractor, too, because getting your back cracked feels goooood. But my case was severe enough that the chiropractor didn't actually straighten me out, just eased the pain. YMMV.
posted by Herschel at 5:58 PM on March 24, 2010

Best answer: Scoliosis as defined by mild spinal curvature is one of the most normal things in the world. Going to your chiro so he can realign you makes as much sense as having him come to your house to work the heaves out of your sidewalk. Both items are about as likely to go through any real change from manipulation.

You will ultimately have to decide if you get any relief from his ministrations, but please don't let them feed you a load of horseshit about realigning anything. Your spine is as robust as a suspension bridge. If they could actually move anything around they would kill or paralyze you (which occasionally happens also, just usually in the more vulnerable neck region). Also, most chiro xrays look like they were made on an etch-a-sketch by a palsied rehab victim. Get a real set from your MD and have them read by a radiologist who isn't trying to pay his bills by having you come back for two more months for an expensive massage.
posted by docpops at 6:24 PM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: To clarify, the x-rays were taken by the radiology department of a local hospital. There was a report by a radiologist which I have not seen yet (faxed to the office) but I'll grab a copy before I head to my PCP. I wouldn't really care about this if it didn't cause enough pain to wake me up at night and prevent me from getting back to sleep.

Also, the chiropractor is twenty bucks cheaper than my doc and forty bucks cheaper than a specialist visit. Hooray insurance.
posted by Loto at 6:37 PM on March 24, 2010

I have lower spine scoliosis, so yeah, it doesn't always have to be a S-curve. But it seems odd that this wouldn't have been discovered earlier, most schools even have scoliosis checks (or at least they did when I was in middle school). It's true you may have just always had this and now increased activity/athleticism is aggravating it?

Like other posters have mentioned, everyone has opinions about chiropractors and I eventually found that most things that help are stretches. The chiropractor scared the shit out of me when I was a kid, but that was because it was sudden and it *hurt.* I'd say keep it up if it's cheaper and it helps you sleep, but make an appointment with a doc just to verify it isn't something worse like pinched nerves, etc.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 6:58 PM on March 24, 2010

It is odd that scoliosis wouldn't be diagnosed until adulthood, but not impossible. I have a full-fledged S-curve (over a 30 degree curve each way) that wasn't discovered until I was 17 and received an x-ray for something else entirely.

A chiropractor might help with pain, but he definitely cannot straighten a spine. At age 26, it's too late for a brace to correct the curve, although some doctors might recommend a support brace (to help with pain issues). At that age, the options are surgery to correct the curvature, or physical therapy to tolerate it.
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 6:18 PM on March 25, 2010

Response by poster: Marked docpops as the best answer because, well, he's right.

Doc said the rehab stuff isn't a bad idea because my posture sucks and that is causing the pain, along with ridiculously tight muscles. Spine is fine but a massage would probably do me some good. Preferably from a cute girl. His words, not mine; I think I like this dude.
posted by Loto at 1:58 PM on March 29, 2010

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