June is National Scoliosis Awareness Month, and Good Morning America personality George Stephanopoulos, who also hosts This Week with George Stephanopoulos, joined his wife Ali Wentworth in revealing that their 14-year-old daughter has been diagnosed with scoliosis and wears a special back brace every day.
The couple used social media to send a message of pride and solidarity with other families dealing with the difficult disease. Wentworth, a well-regarded actress, tweeted, “So proud of my daughter wearing her brace every day! #LeaningUp ##NationalScoliosisAwarenessMonth,” while the teen’s father tweeted, “So proud of my daughter Elliott. Wearing brace every day. #NationalScoliosisMonth.”
Scoliosis is a condition that causes a sideways curvature of the spine. It is very common, affective more than 3 million people in the United States each year, with 80% of cases occurring in adolescents. The condition is treatable, with early diagnosis generally resulting in a spine surgeon prescribing the type of brace that Elliott Stephanopoulos is currently wearing. These braces help to keep the curve from growing worse. It is generally worn until the adolescent patient has reached full maturity and growth. This can be difficult, both emotionally and physically, which is a big part of why the family is encouraging both their daughter and others who share her journey.
Diagnosing an idiopathic scoliosis curve early is one of the best ways to head off the need for surgery, but it can impose hardship on a teen during their most emotionally vulnerable years. The rigid back brace is essential to lowering the chance of a severe deformity. The sideways curvature is measured in degrees. Called the Cobb angle, physicians do little more than observe a curvature of less than 10 degrees, and the same is generally true up until the point when it reaches 25 degrees. Once the curvature gets to this point physicians will begin ordering X-rays to more accurately monitor the progression. If the curve reaches more than 25 degrees while the child is still growing or is less than 25 degrees but is showing rapid progress, that is when bracing is generally recommended. For those who have already reach or are approaching skeletal maturity, the brace is unlikely to be effective, and that’s when surgery becomes a better option.
Bracing will never improve a scoliosis curve. In cases where an idiopathic scoliosis curve has gotten too pronounced or progresses despite the use of a brace, surgery is often offered as an option. Scoliosis surgery not only stops the progression of a curvature, it can also reduce the deformity, providing better balance. There are different types of surgery offered, including fusion, which permanently fuses a couple of vertebrae together to form an immovable single bone; another type of surgery involves implanting a growing system in which rods are anchored to the spine as the child continues to grow.