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What Is Scheuermann's Disease?

Surgery is usually considered a last resort for people with Scheuermann's disease due to the risks associated with surgery on the spine.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 13 October 2014
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Scheuermann's disease is a disorder of the spine which causes the upper spine to become rounded over time. This leads to postural defects which cannot be corrected by attempting to straighten up, as the patient's spine is actually bent. The condition of having a bent spine is known as kyphosis, which is why Scheuermann's disease is sometimes known as Scheuermann's kyphosis. Kyphosis may be caused by a number of other factors including other degenerative spine disorders as well as trauma to the spine. Scheuermann's disease is also called Calve Disease or Juvenile Osteochondrosis of the Spine.

The causes of Scheuermann's disease are not well understood. Research suggests that there may be a genetic component, although several suspect genes initially identified as potential culprits have since been cleared of wrongdoing. The condition also may be related to trauma and mechanical problems, such as chronic poor posture which deforms the shape of the spine. This condition appears primarily among young boys, providing supportive evidence for theories that there is a strong genetic component, even if the disease is not entirely genetic.

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In patients with Scheuermann's disease, the bones in the upper spine grow more slowly in front than they do in the back, creating a wedgelike shape. Over time, the series of wedges cause a distinctive bend to appear in the spine. Some patients experience pain, especially at the apex of the bend, while others are relatively pain free. The bend forces a change in posture which can make a patient uncomfortable in addition to limiting freedom of movement and potentially causing social problems.

If Scheuermann's disease is caught early, the patient can benefit from bracing and physical therapy. Sometimes, this is enough to gradually straighten the spine out and allow it to develop normally, so that the patient can enjoy a straight spine. This is done under the supervision of a doctor to avoid causing stress or strain which could inure the spine. In other cases, the kyphosis may be allowed to progress too far for these measures to work. In these cases, spinal surgery will be required to correct the kyphosis. Surgery is recommended as a last resort due to the risks of spinal surgery.

Another condition, juvenile disc disorder or lumbar Scheuermann's, is sometimes confused with the original Scheuermann's disease. In this condition, people experience a juvenile onset of back pain in the lower or lumber spine. This condition is very different, and treatment approaches are different as well.

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