Sco­l­io­sis may be due to po­liomyeli­tis

The News-Times - - ADVICE/GAMES - Keith Roach, M.D.

Dear Dr. Roach: I had po­lio when I was 11 years old, many years ago, and mirac­u­lously, re­cov­ered enough to live a nor­mal life. When I was in my 40s, I de­vel­oped con­stant back pain and vis­ited a renowned or­tho­pe­dist in Stam­ford, Con­necti­cut. When I told him I’d had po­lio, he rolled up a pa­per towel and placed it un­der my right heel. He told me that “all peo­ple with po­lio have some de­gree of sco­l­io­sis.” The pain went away al­most im­me­di­ately.

He gave me a pre­scrip­tion for a 1/4-inch heel pad (to take to a shoe­maker) and to wear it in my right shoe all the time. I also was ad­vised to do a set of floorstretch­ing ex­er­cises, which I did ev­ery morn­ing.

I am now 85 years old and never had back pain again. When­ever some­one men­tions they have pain from sco­l­io­sis, I tell them my story.

E.R.

An­swer: Po­liomyeli­tis is a dev­as­tat­ing com­pli­ca­tion of po­liovirus with no proven treat­ment. The virus may dam­age many of the nerves of the body, in­clud­ing those to the mus­cles nec­es­sary to breathe (hence, the iron lung).

Sco­l­io­sis is a com­mon com­pli­ca­tion of po­liomyeli­tis, but it is not uni­ver­sal. Sco­l­io­sis may de­velop years after the acute in­fec­tion along with mus­cle weak­ness as part of post-po­lio syn­drome. Mus­cle and joint pain go along with PPS.

One pos­si­bil­ity of apparent sco­l­io­sis in your case is of a leg-length dis­crep­ancy, which is ex­ceed­ingly com­mon in po­lio sur­vivors. When one leg is longer than the other, it may lead to changes in the body to com­pen­sate. Over time, this causes hip and back pain and sco­l­io­sis due to func­tional changes of the spine. When the leg-length dis­crep­ancy is ad­dressed, the sco­l­io­sis goes away. I sus­pect you had a leg-length dis­crep­ancy that the or­tho­pe­dist ad­dressed. Nor­mally, the legs would be mea­sured, and a lift would be given for no more than half the dis­crep­ancy. It’s also pos­si­ble there is both some sco­l­io­sis and some leg-length dis­crep­ancy.

It’s very im­por­tant to hear from peo­ple who sur­vived po­lio. Un­til the dis­ease is erad­i­cated from the planet, we need to be vig­i­lant about vac­ci­nat­ing.

Read­ers may email ques­tions to: [email protected] .cor­nell.edu or mail ques­tions to 628 Vir­ginia Dr., Or­lando, FL 32803.

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