Buyer's Guide to Mattresses for Scoliosis
The term ‘scoliosis’ refers to a lateral curvature of the spine that typically develops in children prior to their puberty growth spurt, affecting about 3 percent of adolescents. According to the Mayo Clinic, most cases of scoliosis are considered mild. However, the condition can lead to spinal deformities that severely worsen with age.
Several symptoms of scoliosis — including neck and lower back pain, muscle spasms, numbness, and heat sensitivity — can affect sleep quality for people with the condition.
Choosing the right mattress is an important decision for scoliosis patients. The right mattress can alleviate the chronic pain associated with scoliosis, and allow these individuals to remain cool and comfortable throughout the night. The wrong mattress, on the other hand, can exacerbate these issues to a significant extent.
This guide will look at how scoliosis affects sleep, as well as some mattress buying considerations for people with scoliosis and recommended sleep strategies for these individuals. First, we look at the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for scoliosis.
Best Mattresses for Scoliosis: Buyer’s Guide
What is Scoliosis?
Scoliosis is a neuromuscular disorder that causes an exaggerated curvature of the spine. Most cases of scoliosis are diagnosed during adolescence and symptoms decrease as the spinal curve straightens with growth. However, more severe curvature may lead to pain and other problems during adulthood.
Scoliosis causes the spine to curve to one side, rather than running down the back in a straight line. The angle of this curve may be slight or severe, but any spinal curvature that measures 10 degrees or more is officially considered scoliosis.
The shape of the curvature may also vary, and many physicians describe it using the letters ‘C’ and ‘S.’ Pronounced spinal curves are more likely to increase over time than minor ones, but each case is different.
Causes and Risk Factors of Scoliosis
Physicians today categorize scoliosis into three groups, depending on the root cause of the condition. Non-structural scoliosis refers to spinal curves that do not affect how the spine functions; these curves can usually be corrected with different types of treatment, including surgery. Causes of non-structural scoliosis include:
- Appendicitis and other inflammations
- Muscle spasms
- Physiological irregularities, such as one leg being longer than the other
Structural scoliosis, on the other hand, greatly impacts how the spine functions and cannot be corrected using any currently available means. Causes of structural scoliosis include:
- Cerebral palsy
- Muscular dystrophy
- Marfan syndrome, Down syndrome and other genetic conditions
- Birth defects
Lastly, the term idiopathic scoliosis refers to spinal curvatures for which the cause is unknown. The majority of individuals with scoliosis are diagnosed with idiopathic scoliosis; it may or may not be correctable.
Some of the most common risk factors for scoliosis include:
- Age: Most children begin to develop scoliosis while still in the womb as irregularities form in the vertebrae of the spine. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, doctors may be able to diagnose babies as soon as they are born. However, most children are diagnosed with scoliosis between the ages of 10 and 15.
- Sex: The condition affects boys and girls in equal measure, but females are more likely to develop severe deformities if their scoliosis is not corrected.
- Family history: Most children diagnosed with scoliosis do not have a genetic history of spinal problems, but the condition is thought to run in some families.
Furthermore, the medical community has determined that the following factors do not cause scoliosis.
- Sports injuries
- The use of heavy backpacks
- Bad posture (although this may be a symptom of scoliosis)
Symptoms and Complications of Scoliosis
Symptoms of scoliosis will depend on the severity of the spinal curve, but they generally include the following:
- Uneven shoulders or asymmetrical shoulder blades
- Uneven waist or asymmetrical hips
- Limited range-of-motion in the shoulders and hips
- Back pain, particularly in the lumbar region
- Muscle spasms and inflammation
Children with scoliosis may also exhibit warning signs of the condition, such as poor posture or wearing clothes that fit loosely on one side. Many parents identify the spinal curve itself when their child’s shirt is off.
Scoliosis can also cause physiological complications that may alert parents and physicians to the presence of the condition, such as:
- Cardiovascular and respiratory problems, which occur when the spinal curve causes the ribcage to twist
- Chronic back pain
- Pronounced rib bones
Diagnosing and Treating Scoliosis
Scoliosis cannot be prevented, but for most people the condition is mild and treatable.
Doctors begin the diagnostic process by performing a physical exam on the child. This includes asking them to bend over at the waist, in order to see if they tilt to one side. Doctors also inquire about numbness, muscle weakness, and unusual reflexes. However, scoliosis diagnoses are normally made following an x-ray exam, which clearly shows the curvature in most cases.
Most scoliosis cases do not require treatment. The following factors can help physicians determine whether or not treatment is necessary:
- Patient’s sex: As stated above, girls are much likelier to develop severe deformities from scoliosis than boys.
- Patient’s age: If the child or adult has reached maturity and their bones have stopped growing, then there is less likelihood of the curve becoming more pronounced.
- Angle and shape of the curve: More pronounced spinal curves are likelier to increase over time than minor ones, and S-shaped curves typically worsen at a more progressive rate than C-shaped curves.
- Location of the curve: Curves that form in the thoracic section, or midsection, of the spine tend to lead to more serious conditions than curves at the top or bottom of the spine.
When treatment is necessary for scoliosis, physicians typically turn to at least one of the following methods:
Braces are particularly beneficial for children whose bones are still growing. Although a brace will not prevent or cure scoliosis, it can effectively reduce the rate of progression in the spinal curve.
Most scoliosis braces are made from soft plastic that contours to the patient’s body. They are most effective when worn at all times, but they are not restrictive and cannot be seen when worn underneath clothing.
Children with scoliosis typically wear the brace until one of the following occurs:
- The patient’s bones stop growing, and he/she is not expected to grow taller
- The female patient has been menstruating for at least two years
- The male patient begins shaving his face on a regular basis
Surgery is considered the last resort for scoliosis, and typically reserved for severe cases.
- Physicians may recommend different types of surgery, but most will choose spinal fusion surgery. During this procedure, at least two of the patient’s vertebrae are fused together while the spine is straightened with hooks, rods, wires, or other metal parts. This prevents the bones from moving independently from one another.
- For exceptionally young patients, an adjustable metal rod may be implanted at the top and bottom of the spinal curve. The rod’s length may be adjusted every six months to keep up with the child’s growth spurts.
In addition to surgery, children and adults with scoliosis may be able to treat scoliosis using the following ‘alternative’ means:
- Chiropractic adjustment and manipulation
- Electrical muscle stimulation
- Dietary supplements