What is Scoliosis?

What is scoliosis?
Scoliosis is a curvature disorder of the spine. From behind, scoliosis can be seen as a side to side curve and twisting of the spine, pulling the ribs out of shape. It can range from very mild to severe when the spine resembles an "S" or long "C".

Scoliosis is a three-dimensional curvature of the spine. Normally, the spine curves backward in the chest and forward in the waist area when looking at a person from the side. From the back view, the spine should be straight, but in scoliosis the spine deviates toward one side or the other at different levels.

spine  pictures

Scoliosis is not a disease, but rather a condition that may appear in more than one member of a family in the same or different generations. It does not develop as a result of anything that a child or his or her parents did or failed to do. It is a spinal disorder that usually appears during the early teen years, although it may appear in younger children as well.

Are there different types of scoliosis?
There are many causes for the development of scoliosis. About 89-90% of the patients have a type known as idiopathic scoliosis. This means that the exact cause of the curvature is unknown. It has been shown that idiopathic scoliosis often runs in families and appears to be genetic in nature. It is not known what "triggers" the development of the curve, or why some curves progress more than others. Scoliosis occurs in otherwise perfectly healthy children. Because scoliosis may appear at anytime during the growing years, it is essential that the spine be checked regularly by the primary care physician until growth is complete. The curvature may progress considerably during the rapid teen-age growth spurt.

Scoliosis can also be caused by nerve and muscular disorders, such as polio. It can also be caused by congenital abnormalities in the formation of the vertebrae. It is important that the development of scoliosis in a particular patient be diagnosed to aid in the proper treatment.

spine side viewHow is it noticed?
One of the most common signs of scoliosis is a prominent shoulder blade, frequently the right one. One shoulder may also be higher and the child tends to "list" to one side. The hips may be uneven and one seems to be higher than the other. Scoliosis should not be confused with poor posture. Very often the first indication of scoliosis is that there is something wrong with the fitting clothes. This is very apparent in girls when observing the hem-line of a skirt or dress. When a child with scoliosis bends forward, the appearance of a rib prominence is one of the most striking signs.

Simple home test
Scoliosis, in its early years produces no pain and may be difficult to detect.  It may be present for several years in a form so mild that even a doctor might very well fail to recognize it.


One of the easiest ways to detect scoliosis is by using the forward bending examination. When you examine the child, have her/him bend forward with her/his arms hanging down loosely with the hands even and the palms touching each other at about the level of the knees. When in this position: If you have any "yes" answers or if the child has a brother, sister, or parent or other close relative with scoliosis, consult your family doctor or orthopedist.

Adult scoliosis
In adults where scoliosis is mild, the condition may remain unchanged or progress so slightly over the years that no serious problems may develop. However, in some people, significant problems can occur. These include back pain, increasing deformity caused by progression of the curve, and the limitation of activities. In the most severe cases left untreated over decades, breathing can also be a problem. Osteoporosis (thinning of the bone), or osteo-malacia (softening of the bone) later in life can cause a mild curvature to increase significantly. Degenerative conditions of the discs and joints of the back may also cause a degenerative type of scoliosis.

Can scoliosis be cured?
There are currently no medications to treat scoliosis, nor can the onset be prevented. In most cases, when the curvature is recognized early in its development, curve progression can be diminished with treatment. When a significant scoliosis is detected, the Doctor may refer the patient to an orthopedic spine specialist for evaluation and/or treatment.

Is scoliosis very common?
According to the Scoliosis Research Society working with the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, about 10% of the adolescent population had some degree of scoliosis. This means that about 1,000,000 children in the United States alone have scoliosis. Approximately one quarter of these, or 2.2% will require medical attention which may consist of observation for future progression of the curve, bracing, or surgery, depending upon the degree of the curvature at the time of its detection. Some scoliosis may be so mild that treatment may never be required.

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