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Can Emotions Trigger Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis?

ByVivian McNeil


The condition known as adolescent idiopathic scoliosis which causes curvature of the spine in children is both mysterious and complex. Most specialists will agree that there is no known single cause of this serious condition. Experts agree of the fact that they see more cases to severe ones in females than in males. In this article we will attempt to take some of the mystery out of this baffling condition and make some sense of the reason that it predominates in females. We will discuss some theories as to the reasons why this is so. However, please remember that they are not straight facts but theories.

Girls are more than ten times more likely to develop adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) by the age of ten than boys according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Also, the chances of the curvature getting worse is ten times more likely in girls than of boys the same age. So why are girls being diagnosed with scoliosis more than boys?

Levels of Female Hormones

Look at any public-school class of the age of pre-puberty or puberty children and you cannot help but notice that some of the girls look like young ladies and the boys of the same age appear as young kids. This can explain why in public schools girls will gravitate to boys who are a few years older than they are for social and romantic interaction. Girls feel that a boy their own age is akin to a younger brother. Also, the boys their age have not reached puberty and their interest in girls is more on the teasing level than on the romantic one.

We are familiar with the fact that puberty starts earlier in girls than boys. The big trigger of scoliosis progression in girls is rapid growth and development. Hormone levels in girls shoot up at a much earlier age which is one of the reasons why scoliosis develops more typically in girls.

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) directs both skeletal growth and puberty through hormone levels. A major hormone called leptin, regulates the body functions relating to reproduction and physical growth, specifically, body weight, puberty signals and bone growth. Leptin is the hormone that regulates how the body manages weight gain. Low BMI (body-mass index) in girls of puberty age results in the development of scoliosis. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) in girls increases in activity because of the increase of the hormone, leptin. While the girls are growing earlier than boys of the same age the neuroendocrine (hormone) stimulation effects the spinal growth in adolescent girls more routinely. The hormone, leptin controls a person of any age’s increased appetite and weight gain. The Leptin theory could explain why certain people can eat the same amount as others and not gain weight. Some experts are exploring other hormone’s roles in scoliosis development such as melatonin, however, no clear conclusion has yet been established.

Emotional Triggers of Adolescent Female Idiopathic Scoliosis

When neuroscientists present the emotional triggers of certain physical conditions they are inevitably going to have to deal with arguments against their theories. We will try to stay clear of making any judgments and state the details of each theory. After finishing this article, you might be interested in reading more detailed accounts of specific scoliosis patients and how their emotional health affects their physical stature.

According to neuroscience, the brains of male and females are programmed differently. There is a popular book that every man and women who is or would like to be in a thriving relationship should read. The book is called Men Are From Mars Women Are From Venus which helps navigate any relationship with the opposite sex, whether it’s in the professional realm or personal one. Most people have heard of this book but don’t take it seriously since it is written in a down to earth manner.

Men Have Bigger Brains

Men may have larger brains physically but the limbic system, which is responsible for memory and emotion is more prominent in women. The limbic system guides the hormonal response to emotional stimuli. Women respond more emotionally, and they remember much more detail and more of the past than men. That’s the reason why women are called historical (similar in pronunciation to hysterical). If a man or woman have an argument, the man will go forward, and the woman will have more of a tendency to look back. All this results from the limbic system.

Next time your wife reminds you of one of your mistakes from a few years back you will understand why she remembers, and she should understand why you do not.

Brain Threat Detector

The amygdala, or brain threat indicator, is slightly larger in men than women. The amygdala responds to threats differently in men than women. For example, if a woman is in a dangerous situation, she might freeze. This is the old-fashioned version of the damsel in distress waiting for the man to rescue her. Scientists compare this to the way a fawn freeze when it sees a car on the road and instead running it just immobilizes and unfortunately can be run over. Women have more of a tendency to suppress threatening or negative emotions.

How does this relate to scoliosis in female adolescents? Adolescence is an emotional struggle for both boys and girls. Boys, try to be macho and fight when possible, but any bad experiences in either sex during adolescence can arrest their emotional development critically. The female brain is more susceptible to stress and we will see why this increases the development of scoliosis in girls.

Girls Have Less Testosterone

Since girls have more estrogen and less testosterone, they are more sensitive and emotional with an increased tendency to depression. Higher levels of testosterone help the boys avoid emotional triggers and maybe be considered insensitive by their female peers. The cultural myth of the “cool guy” is actually true and caused by testosterone.

In a lab study of male and female rats, it was found that stress binds more closely to the female rat’s brain. By self-reducing the hormone, corticotropin – releasing factor (CRF), the male rats showed more tolerance for and adaptation to the stress.

Emotional Repression in Girls Can Cause Scoliosis

When I was small my father would sing us a poem about the advantages of having daughters. Part of the poem was, “Girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. Boys are made of snakes and snails and puppy dog tails”. This rhyme teaches a girl early that she is expected to behave nicely and be good. A good girl is polite and obedient and if she tries to be like a boy, she would be called, “a tomboy”.

Jon Burras, writes in his book, Return To Nature: The Five Pillars of Healing, his belief as to the reason scoliosis is prominent in girls. Girls’ bodies change drastically in a very short time during puberty. A twelve-year-old girl who does not have self- esteem will try to hide her changing body. A boy’s body does not show the effects of puberty in such a public way and starts later on.

Cheryl of MindKind Mom, attests to her own childhood experiences of emotional repression causing her own scoliosis. Cheryl’s mom was an epitome of emotional repression and Cheryl looked up to her as her role model. Her mom never spoke badly about anyone nor did she raise her voice or get angry. Cheryl calls scoliosis, a non- person disease.

Boys Tend to Be More Physically Active Than Girls

You may take issue with this statement since there are many girls’ sports domains and teams. We all are aware that physical activity is a stress buster. You may argue that the good hormones endorphins, are plentiful in active females and are amazing reducers of stress. You cannot argue, however, that while the guys are shooting baskets or hitting baseballs for fun, the girls are hanging out with friends. Some old-fashioned girls will still avoid activities considered, unladylike. Girls will therefore have weaker bones and muscles which becomes the perfect storm for a condition like scoliosis.

Final Words

There is no absolute answer for the cause of idiopathic adolescent scoliosis. It is imperative that a parent take their child to a doctor and if necessary, to a scoliosis center to treat this problem. Most parents can detect if there is an underlying emotional issue with their child. If there is an unhealthy situation going on at home, the school should look into it if they see the child both unhappy and in a bent down position including very little eye contact. No matter what the underlying cause of the scoliosis is, and we may never find out, it must be treated with the latest brace technology and physical therapy. Perhaps during these sessions, a sensitive professional can speak to the child, comfort her, and give her the emotional support which will build her self-esteem and at the same time manage her scoliosis.

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