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Spine and Back Health

Can a back injury cause scoliosis?

06/06/2003

Question:

I am a 24 year old male, and about a month ago I suffered a back injury. Basically it was a hyperflexion stretching injury. It was very stupid and I highly regret it. I wanted to test the limits of my flexibility, so I layed down with my head on a pillow, rolled up on my upper back with my legs over my head, and then I propped my legs up against the wall and using my legs I pushed my pelvis down toward my upper chest and head, forcing my back and spine to flex beyond their normal limits. I really forced the issue and I`ve regretted it ever since. I knew right away I had hurt myself . . . my entire spine seemed to hurt, as well as my back. I was having muscle spasms and some back pain, but for the most part the injury didn`t limit my activities (I even played basketball 2 weeks after the fact). My question is, could this have caused my spine to curve? I recently had a physical for a job and when the doctor checked my back (part of the physical, I wasn`t complaining of back pain) he noticed a slight curvature right away. I had a physical less than a year ago and at that time the physician (a different physician) didn`t say anything to me about spinal curvature even though checking my back was part of the physical. I`ve recently had x-rays and an examination done, and the doctor doesn`t seem to think the recent injury caused my spinal curvature, although he says there`s a possibility the muscle spasms are causing it to curve. If this is the case, will the curvature correct itself if and when the muscle spasms cease? Any advice you could render would be greatly appreciated, as I have been stressing myself out thinking about how a stupid stretch I did caused my spine to curve. Thank you.

Answer:

In short, a single injury does not usually cause a scoliosis. A scoliosis is lateral curvature of the spine. If you stand behind someone, their spine should look like a straight line from their head to their hips. With a scoliosis the spine looks like it has an `s` shape. There are two types of scoliosis. The first makes up about 80% of the cases and is called adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. It is first seen in the adolescent years and is caused by the bones of the spine becoming wedge shaped. This type of scoliosis has no known cause. The other type of scoliosis is called functional scoliosis. This is typically caused by a leg length difference or muscle spasms. This type of scoliosis can be corrected. From your question, this is the type that you have. A typical back injury will resolve in close to two weeks. If it does not feel better in two weeks, please contact your physician. Muscle strains and spasms, such as the ones you described, should heal over 6-8 weeks. Most people will notice a big difference in the first two weeks and then a gradual improvement over the next 6 weeks. If that is not the case, your physician may refer you to physical therapy, a physical therapist specialized in the treatment of muscular injuries like yours. If your symptoms resolve, I still recommend that you follow up with your physician to make sure that the scoliosis is gone. Addressing a back injury properly now will decrease the likelihood of reinjury in the future. 

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Response by:

Tammy S Wadsworth, PT MS OCS Tammy S Wadsworth, PT MS OCS
Sports Medicine Team Member
Clinical Instructor at The School of Allied Medical Professions
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University