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Can Spinal Cord Injury Cause Scoliosis?

spinal cord injury scoliosis development

Is there a link between spinal cord injury and scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a condition where the spine curves to the side.

While it is most common during adolescence, scoliosis can also develop in adulthood.

In this article, we’ll explain how spinal cord injury can cause scoliosis and the best ways to manage it.

Spinal Cord Injury and Scoliosis

©iStock.com/ChooChin

A traumatic injury to the back like spinal cord injury can paralyze your trunk muscles.

Paralysis will make it difficult to maintain sitting balance and posture, which can contribute to the development of neuromuscular scoliosis after spinal cord injury.

This doesn’t happen overnight, but consistently compromised posture can cause scoliosis.

Scoliosis can gradually progress but is generally not considered a medical emergency.

However, individuals with spinal cord injuries should be aware of the increased risk of developing scoliosis and how it can worsen if not properly managed.

Quality of Life with Scoliosis After Spinal Cord Injury

Developing scoliosis as a result of spinal cord injury can make it even more challenging to perform activities of daily living like getting out of bed, performing wheelchair transfers, and dressing on your own.

Scoliosis affects more than one’s posture. If left unmanaged, scoliosis can progress and severely restrict one’s mobility.

Severe spinal curves can cause:

  • chronic pain due to increased pressure on the lower back and hips
  • pressure ulcers
  • breathing difficulties

Managing Scoliosis and Spinal Cord Injury

spinal cord injury back brace to manage scoliosis

©iStock.com/Jtasphoto

It’s important to take precautions to prevent scoliosis from worsening to maximize quality of life after spinal cord injury.

There are non-surgical management options for scoliosis that can effectively delay or altogether avoid the need for surgery.

Management interventions for scoliosis include:

Wheelchair Modifications

Individuals with more severe SCIs typically spend a lot of time in their wheelchairs because it is their primary source of mobility.

Wheelchair modifications like a back or seat mold can make it easier to maintain sitting balance with compromising posture.

These molds are custom-made to ensure proper support for your spine.  

Braces

Unlike a wheelchair modification, a spinal brace must be worn.

Therefore, it can help promote proper alignment while you’re sitting or standing.  

There are a variety of spinal braces. Some wrap around your entire trunk, while others may only wrap around a certain area for extra support.

It’s important to understand that wearing a brace or using a wheelchair mold will not reverse the effects of scoliosis. However, it can help support your trunk so that it is easier to maintain sitting balance without needing to lean to the side.

Exercise and Physical Therapy

Physical therapy after spinal cord injury focuses on recovering motor functions through exercise.

Core exercises will help improve sitting balance by strengthening and stimulating the neural connections between the trunk and central nervous system.

The more you practice consciously correcting your sitting posture, the more comfortable it will feel.

This occurs because the central nervous system has neuroplasticity (the ability to rewire itself) and adapts to repetitive stimulation.

Surgery

Typically, a spinal cord injury is caused by vertebrae compressing the spinal cord, and surgery is required to decompress and stabilize the spinal column.

If scoliosis develops due to paralysis after a spinal cord injury, surgery may need to be performed again to realign the spine.

Spinal fusion surgery is typically only recommended when the spinal curve starts to become severe (around 50 degrees).

It involves using bone grafts, screws, and rods to join your vertebrae together.

Spinal Cord Injury and Scoliosis: Key Points

can a spinal cord injury cause scoliosis

Featured image: ©iStock.com/trumzz

Scoliosis can develop after a spinal cord injury due to nerve damage that results in a lack of control over the muscles in your core.

The core muscles are essential for balance and without control over them, individuals will struggle to sit or stand up straight and start leaning to the side.

Additionally, involuntary muscle contractions (spasticity) caused by spinal cord injury can contribute to the development of scoliosis.

If properly managed, scoliosis after spinal cord injury can be minimized through bracing and physical therapy.

However, the ability to regain control over the core muscles will primarily rely on the severity of your SCI and how aggressively you pursue rehabilitation.

Now that you know how scoliosis can develop after a spinal cord injury, we hope you take the necessary precautions to ensure correct posture and maximize your long-term mobility. Good luck!

Featured image: ©iStock.com/RossHelen

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