Since there is so much misinformation about scoliosis side effects floating around, we thought it would be helpful to go through some of the more common myths and why they are incorrect. Hopefully, this will put you on the path to more fully understanding scoliosis.
MYTH #1: SCOLIOSIS RARELY CAUSES PAIN
Many people will tell you there is no pain directly caused by a curved spine. The reasoning behind this myth is that the pain is not generally in the actual curve. However, the area around the curve can be painful as a direct result of the abnormal curve. While more severe forms of scoliosis are more likely to cause pain, even mild cases can be responsible for a great deal of pain and discomfort. Because not all scoliosis patients experience this pain, many think that it’s not a side effect.
Lying flat on your stomach, twisting your neck, standing or sitting for long periods of time, and leaning into the curve can all cause muscle pain and soreness for people with scoliosis. This pain and discomfort are more common in adult scoliosis patients, who may also be experiencing pinched nerves from degenerative scoliosis or arthritis. About 20 percent of adolescents with scoliosis also experience some level of muscle pain.
Scoliosis is also associated with headaches. Tension headaches can be a common issue for patients with curves in their upper backs. The tight neck muscles place tension on the head, causing pain that can sometimes escalate to migraine levels. Scoliosis may also interfere with the flow of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Moreover, when the CSF pressure in the brain is low, debilitating headaches can occur.
With scoliosis, certain types of pain are warning signs that it’s time for a trip to the doctor. For instance, a sharp back pain that can be pinpointed to one spot could mean an infection or tumor. Though these complications are rare, be sure to alert your doctor of any irregular pain or discomfort. There’s not a guarantee that scoliosis will be painful. However, it’s not fair to say that scoliosis is painless. Those with scoliosis carry a higher risk for pain than those without it.
MYTH #2: SCOLIOSIS DOESN’T AFFECT SLEEP
Saying that scoliosis doesn’t affect sleep is related to the myth that scoliosis can’t cause pain or discomfort. Shortness of breath is also a common side effect that many scoliosis patients experience. A curve that rotates the rib cage, however slightly, can put pressure on the lungs and restrict breathing. When you’re in pain and having trouble breathing, it comes as no surprise that you may have some difficulty falling and staying asleep.
We have a few pillow-related tips that might help improve your shut-eye. Sleeping on your back with your neck in a forward-flexed position on the pillow can actually cause tension in the neck and make it even harder for you to fall asleep. To ease these scoliosis side effects, we recommend using a donut pillow (one with a hollow indent in the middle) and placing it under your neck to support your spine, while positioning your head straight on the bed, so you’re staring at the ceiling above you. This way, your neck gets the support it needs, and you can be more comfortable.
If you like to sleep on your side, you’ll still want to make sure that neck is supported. When compressed, the thickness of your pillow should be equal to the distance from your shoulder to the side of your head. If your pillow is too thin, you may feel like your body is rolling forward, and want to prop an arm up under your head. If your pillow is too thick, you may feel like your body wants to roll backward. When your pillow is the correct height for side-sleeping, you should feel perfectly balanced and relaxed. For extra cushion and support, use a pillow between your knees. Finding a comfortable position can be tough, but we’ve found that these two options work for many of our patients.
Sleeping on your stomach is very bad for your neck – don’t do it! When you sleep on your stomach, your neck spends all night in a twisted position. Just imagine if you were to walk around all day with your head turned to one side; you would probably have some pretty bad neck pain by the end of the day!
MYTH #3: PEOPLE WITH SCOLIOSIS CAN’T PLAY SPORTS
Many people think that too much movement will make the Cobb angle worse. However, it’s the opposite. People with scoliosis should stay active and keep a healthy weight. Movement sends good nutrients to the spine and generally makes you a much happier person than leading a sedentary life would.
However, certain sports are better than others for individuals with scoliosis. Swimming, hiking, and dancing are great options, but collision and competitive sports may not be. It is always a good idea to talk to your doctor before beginning a new sport. Collision and competitive sports could derail treatment if you injure your spine before the curve is corrected and stabilized. Sometimes, doctors may recommend that you wait until after treatment, or in extreme cases, stop playing altogether. That being said, most people with scoliosis have no problem returning to sports after they’ve completed their treatment. For more information, visit our page on Sports and Activities.
MYTH #4: SCOLIOSIS IS ONLY A COSMETIC DISORDER
Coming from the same line of thought that brings people to believe scoliosis is not painful, there is a myth that scoliosis is merely cosmetic. We could spend days detailing every possible part of the body and mind scoliosis can affect. However, for the sake of brevity, let’s say that your spinal curve affects a lot more than your physical appearance. Scoliosis side effects, which may include pain, discomfort, headaches, trouble breathing and problems sleeping, can be a major impediment to your daily life. It is also important to recognize that there can be emotional scoliosis side effects, which are just as real as the physical ones.
It can be tough to wade through the many myths and working theories around scoliosis side effects. We hope this helped to clarify some of the misinformation, and if nothing else, give you some validation for any pain or discomfort you may be dealing with.