Scoliosis is a term used to describe disorder in which a sideways curve of the spine is present. A normal backbone appears straight when viewed from the front or back and does not exhibit any lateral curvature. Scoliosis can occur as single arc to either the left or right side, or arc twice giving the spine an “S” shape.
Individuals of all ages can have scoliosis. The most common type of scoliosis is idiopathic scoliosis, which means it occurs for an unknown reason. Idiopathic scoliosis affects approximately 2% of the population and is the most common form of the disorder found in children and adolescents. Scoliosis in adults is often a degenerative scoliosis, which develops as a result of illness or injury, previous back surgery, or osteoporosis. In neuromuscular conditions such as cerebral palsy, spina bifida, or muscular dystrophy a type of scoliosis known as neuromuscular scoliosis is frequently seen. Scoliosis may also be present at birth in cases where the vertebral bones have not developed normally.
Idiopathic scoliosis most typically occurs in children and adolescents from ten to eighteen years of age. There may be a family history of this type of scoliosis. In most instances the disorder is spotted at a routine physical with the family doctor, at a school screening, or observed by a parent. Girls are more likely to be affected than boys by idiopathic scoliosis. Although the majority of the cases of this type of scoliosis are mild, with growth the degree of curvature can worsen. This is the reason the doctor will monitor the degree of curvature in these patients with scheduled periodic physical exams and order diagnostic tests as needed.
Signs and symptoms of scoliosis can include:
- Uneven shoulders or one shoulder blade more prominent than the other
- Asymmetric waistline
- One hip appears higher than the other one
If and how scoliosis is treated depends on the type of scoliosis present, the underlying cause, the degree of curvature, the individual’s age, and if growth is still expected. Preventing a severe curvature from developing is very important. A high degree of curvature may not only be disfiguring, it can result in further spine problems as well as be detrimental to the lungs and heart. Mild cases of scoliosis may only require observation. Wearing a brace is recommended for children and adolescents who have a moderate curve to prevent the curvature from increasing while they continue to grow. Individuals with a significant degree of scoliosis, or growing youngsters exhibiting a worsening curve may need surgery.