The most prevalent spinal disorder in younger athletes is Scheuermann's disease (or adolescent kyphosis), a hereditary condition causing excessive curving of the spine. The disease is present when the spine is curved more than 50 degrees and generally arises in growing boys, leading to temporary pain and abnormal posture, though in rare instances it can carry over into adulthood.
Symptoms of Scheuermann's Disease
A noticeable change in posture is generally the first physical sign of the disease; the injured party may seem to be constantly slouching or appear to have especially rounded shoulders. The curve in the spine will gradually appear more exaggerated as it changes shape. This deformity will be notably rigid. The upper back and spine might feel weakened, and severe pain is often reported. This pain may come and go, sometimes being accompanied by spells of lower back pain. Hamstrings can also be affected, feeling tighter than usual. These symptoms can progress further as the sufferer continues to grow during adolescence.
Causes of Scheuermann's Disease
The exact cause of the disease is unclear but experts often link it to a vertebral abnormality in which one part of the growth plate ceases to develop while the other continues. Occasionally Scheuermann's disease is also thought to be connected with direct trauma to the spine during the growing years, such as from a projectile or another participant while playing a sport, or with an imbalance of hormones or defects in nutrition. A weaker spine and surrounding ligaments can also increase the likelihood of the disease.
Treatment of Scheuermann's Disease
See a doctor to diagnose the disease, which often involves the use of an x-ray to identify at least three neighbouring vertebrae with abnormal growth. They will look at the spacing between vertebrae to assess any changes in shape associated with the condition. If the disease is developing at a concerning rate they can fit the patient with a relevant supporting structure or corset. Pain medication will be a viable option for those with recurring aches. The doctor is also likely to recommend physical therapy, comprised of upper back massage, in order to relieve pain symptoms and keep the muscles relaxed, and joint or spinal mobilisation therapy to safely and gently increase movement in the spine.
In young people the condition regularly lasts between 6 months and 3 years depending on an individual's growth rate, after which the spine moves into its normal shape. During this period it is important to consult with a doctor about which activities, especially sporting activities, are suitable for the injured party and which should be avoided. In any case you should often stretch the abdominal and hamstring muscles and move the back responsibly, avoiding exacerbation of the disease while maintaining motion. Stretching and strengthening exercises for these areas will help to keep the muscles healthy.
Lasting Effects of Scheuermann's Disease
Effects in the long term are rarely major, and any such effects can usually be tackled with appropriate exercises. However in some cases Scheuermann's disease can follow a person into adulthood, developing into kyphosis or other curvature conditions, which is a risk if the initial spinal deformity is particularly severe. A doctor can tackle this with suitable treatment.
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