A Beginner’s Guide to Scoliosis

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In November 2011, I went through one of the most terrifying yet life-changing experiences in my life so far. I had been diagnosed with scoliosis for several months, and the time had finally come to undergo surgery to correct it. Scoliosis refers to rotation in one’s spine, resulting in the back not being straight. It could possibly lead to complications in posture and breathing, thus an operation may be necessary if the spine’s rotation is grave, usually when it is above 30°.

As an ex-scoliosis patient myself, I can understand why probably most of you reading this have never even heard of scoliosis, or you may be aware of it but you do not essentially know anything about it. Firstly, scoliosis is only physically visible when the rotation becomes grave and literally causes one’s back to bend and no longer remain straight.

When it is not as serious, as in the majority of cases, scoliosis can rarely be detected by the naked human eye, and thus requires the use of an instrument known as the scoliometer. Most recently, this instrument has also been made into an app, by which one can measure the degree of scoliosis on someone’s back in a few minutes, by simply placing the scoliometer on the person’s back while the latter crouches down and touches their toes.

Supposedly, most family doctors and general practitioners are aware of the condition and the uncomplicated use of the scoliometer to detect it. But unfortunately, especially in Malta, numerous doctors have failed to diagnose scoliosis successfully, if not mistaking it for another back condition. As mentioned, if the degree of rotation is more than 30°, the person in question should be transferred to a specialist, in order to confirm whether surgery is crucial or not.

Other than undergoing an operation, one suffering from scoliosis can commit to physical exercises tailor-made for his or her particular degree of gravity. It is therefore also imperative to mention that scoliosisis different in every affected individual, and it is almost impossible to apply certain treatment to everyone.

Another reason why scoliosis is practically unknown to a large portion of the general public, is due to the fact that there is not yet a universal scientific agreement upon the core cause of scoliosis. What is scientifically proven so far is that scoliosis can be of two main types; congenital in newborns and idiopathic in children or adolescents, typically between the ages of 10 and 16. Many, including locally, blame heavy school bags as the key explanation for scoliosis being so common. Scientifically though, the only proven cause of scoliosis is it being hereditary.

Since there are no Maltese surgeons who have been trained to carry out the scoliosis operation, foreign surgeons visit Mater Dei Hospital twice a year operate on all the patients gathered since the last series of surgeries. It would prove to be much more practical to have at least one Maltese surgeon knowledgeable enough to perform this operation. On the other hand, it has been considered inefficient as yet to have surgeons specialize solely in scoliosis, since the demand of operations in Malta is too high compared to the amount of available surgeons.

An extremely essential solution towards making scoliosis more widely known to the public, as well as detecting rotation in its early stages in order to prevent more people from having to be operated would bescoliosis checks in all Maltese primary and secondary schools. These types of checks have become much more of a normality in recent years, but in reality they are mostly limited to state schools. In addition, checks should be carried out by experienced specialists and not Physical Education teachers, as sometimes occurs in Maltese schools.

Just like any other medical condition, scoliosis deserves to be given attention by the media and public alike. But the latter often depends on the former; so more information about scoliosis should be transmitted through television, radio and internet among other means of communication, as well as talks and meetings in schools and other institutions. Heads of the medical sector should also take on the responsibility of creating widespread awareness for purposes of public interest and well-being.

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