What is scoliosis?

Scoliosis is an abnormal side-to-side curvature of the spine away from the midline. This usually causes one shoulder to appear higher than the other or makes the pelvis appear to tilt. In addition to the side-to-side curving, there may also be some rotation of the spine. This rotation, when present, may make your waist or shoulders look uneven. A variation of scoliosis, called kyphoscoliosis, may also involve abnormal front-to-back curvature.

Spinal Problems Spotlight

The spinal column refers to the column created by your vertebrae. It consists of 24 articulating vertebrae that run from the top and back of your neck down your back and are separated by cushiony intervertebral discs. This is followed by nine fused vertebrae in the sacrum and coccyx at the base of your spine.

Scoliosis usually develops during childhood and may easily be overlooked. When the condition is discovered in an adult, it may actually be the progression of undetected childhood scoliosis. However, both scoliosis and kyphosis can develop in adulthood, usually in response to degenerative disc disease, osteoporosis (thinning and weakening of the bones), or spondylosis (spinal degeneration).

Scoliosis is not life threatening and often does not progress. It is important to treat any related pain (usually in adults only) to prevent debilitation. Although scoliosis in a child should be monitored regularly as the child grows, often it needs no intervention at all. In some cases, treatment can prevent further progression, so it is important to monitor spinal changes regularly.

Scoliosis is usually a mild condition and sometimes requires no treatment. In rare cases of severe curvature that is left untreated, the rib cage may be compromised and press in on the heart or lungs, making it difficult for them to function. Seek prompt medical care if you experience worsening of your back pain or if you notice uneven shoulders or waist or elevated hips.


What are the symptoms of scoliosis?

Symptoms of scoliosis do not usually appear in childhood unless the condition is advanced and begins to cause discomfort in the back. Instead, outward signs may be noticed by a parent or physician and are reflected as subtle aberrations in “posture.”

Common signs of scoliosis

Scoliosis occurs frequently without symptoms. Pain or discomfort in older adults is often relat... Read more about scoliosissymptoms


What causes scoliosis?

Most cases of scoliosis are congenital, that is, they are present at birth, and are caused by problems in vertebral development or in ribs that are fused together early in life. Scoliosis can also be caused by neuromuscular problems related to diseases like cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, or spina bifida (birth defect resulting in incomplete formation of the backbone and spinal canal). Cert... Read more about scoliosiscauses


How is scoliosis treated?

In many cases, scoliosis does not require treatment. For example, some cases of childhood and adolescent idiopathic scoliosis are monitored roughly every six months with no treatment necessary. If curves worsen, a scoliosis brace may be used to help slow progression. Back braces do not reverse scoliosis curvature but apply pressure to help straighten the spine and prevent further curvature from... Read more about scoliosistreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 20, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Bones, Joints and Muscles

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