Thoracic scoliosis is a form of scoliosis, a condition characterized by curvature of the spine, which is concentrated in the thoracic spine, the area of spine in the midback. This is a common location for scoliosis, and it can be very problematic for the patient because the curvature can lead to deformities which impede breathing. For this reason, people are usually encouraged to closely monitor this condition and to treat it if it appears to be progressing to a problematic stage.
There are a number of different causes for scoliosis. Many cases are idiopathic, meaning that there is no known reason. In other cases, it can be caused by congenital problems and disease processes which can occur later in life. In the case of thoracic scoliosis, the bones in the middle of the spine start to curve to the right, which also tends to push the ribcage out of position. If the curvature is allowed to progress, the bones can deform and the patient can develop postural problems, difficulty breathing, and other complications.
When scoliosis is identified, the mildest treatments are physical therapy and exercise which are designed to strengthen the spine and pull it back into alignment. If these measures are not effective or the scoliosis is too severe for them, bracing may be considered. When people with thoracic scoliosis wear a brace, the brace holds the spine in place and prevents further curvature. Wearing a brace can be uncomfortable and awkward, although bracing technology has greatly improved, making it easier for patients to comply with the prescription, which often requires wearing a brace for long stretches at a time.
Some cases of thoracic scoliosis progress too far for bracing, for a number of different reasons, or the curvature persists despite bracing, sometimes because the patient has trouble adhering to the bracing regimen. In these cases, surgery may be recommended to correct the curvature. The surgery is performed by a spinal surgeon, and there are a number of surgical techniques in use to correct scoliosis. Patients may want to consult several surgeons before deciding on one to work with to learn more about their options.
Children in many regions of the world are routinely examined to spot the early signs of scoliosis. Their primary care providers may conduct periodic checks, and sometimes children are also examined in school as part of a public health initiative. This allows many cases of thoracic scoliosis to be caught early.