Most likely to affect children 13 to 16 years of age, juvenile osteochondrosis is a condition that affects the upper middle (thoracic) spine. Also referred to as Scheuermann’s disease, this developmental disorder can contribute to an abnormal spinal curvature and related lower back problems. Here’s a closer look at how this condition is diagnosed and treated when it affects adolescents.
Before considering treatment options, it’s necessary to have an understanding of why juvenile osteochondrosis develops and how to recognize it. This abnormality is related to the way spinal bones develop. In children with juvenile osteochondrosis, the back parts of affected vertebrae develop more slowly, which results in a wedge-shaped formation (vertebral wedging). This abnormal growth pattern usually affects the upper portion of the spine in a way that results in a “hunchback” appearance (referred to as kyphosis). The specific cause of juvenile osteochondrosis isn’t fully understood, but there’s evidence it could run in families.
Related risk factors include spinal infections, having a shortened breastbone (sternum), and certain endocrine disorders. Other than a visible hunched spine, symptoms associated with this condition include:
• Discomfort in the thoracic spine area
• Reduced range of spinal motion
• Pain affected by certain activities or movements, such as twisting or bending
Diagnosis is usually based on a visual examination of the spine, but a Santa Monica spine surgeon may order image tests if the hunch is minor or difficult to clearly detect. Image tests might also be ordered if the condition is causing pain to determine if other spinal structures are affected. There are two main goals with treatment for juvenile osteochondrosis:
1. Pain relief
2. Preventing the abnormal spinal curvature from getting worse
Unless the curvature is severe and causing serious discomfort, treatment is likely to involve conservative efforts. Treatments of this nature often involve:
Children with juvenile osteochondrosis may also be taught how to be more aware of their posture to avoid placing too much extra strain on the affected parts of their spines, which may also involve restrictions on bending or lifting.
Young patients who respond well to such treatment efforts are often able to lead normal lives and participate in activities that don’t require significant or repetitive bending or twisting. Strength training that focuses on core muscle groups may also be recommended to strengthen spine-supporting muscles and naturally improve spinal stability.
It’s rare for vertebral wedging to be so severe that surgery becomes necessary. However, this may happen if the abnormal spinal curvature is severe and seriously affecting quality of life. While this type of intervention isn’t often needed, it can result in pain relief and restore stability to the affected part of the spine.
Scheuermann’s disease isn’t considered preventable, since it’s related to a developmental issue and its exact cause isn’t known. However, juvenile osteochondrosis is often manageable or treatable without surgery when it’s detected early and the abnormal curvature isn’t severe.
If you suspect your child may have juvenile osteochondrosis, reach out to the pioneering physicians at The Spine Institute. Our cutting-edge treatment methods lead the spinal health industry, and we specialize in procedures such as anterior lumbar interbody fusion. Santa Monica residents can schedule a consultation by calling one of our friendly representatives today at 310-828-7757.