What is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis is sideways curvature of the spine that most often occurs just before puberty. While scoliosis can be caused by conditions such as cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy, the cause of most scoliosis is actually unknown. About 3% of adolescents have scoliosis.

Most cases of scoliosis are mild, but left untreated, some spine deformities continue to get more severe as children grow. Severe scoliosis can be disabling and can eventually reduce the amount of space within the chest, making it difficult for the lungs to function properly.

Signs and Symptoms of Scoliosis may include:

  • Uneven shoulders
  • One shoulder blade that appears more prominent than the other
  • Uneven waist
  • One hip higher than the other
  • Pediatricians physically examine their patients’ spine at yearly well check-ups

If a scoliosis curve gets worse, the spine will also rotate or twist, in addition to curving side to side. This causes the ribs on one side of the body to stick out farther than on the other side.

Causes of Scoliosis

Doctors don't know what causes the most common type of scoliosis — although it appears to be hereditary. Less commonly scoliosis may be caused by:

Risk Factors

Risk factors for developing the most common type of scoliosis include:

  • Age - Signs and symptoms typically begin pre puberty.
  • Female Gender - Although both boys and girls develop mild scoliosis at about the same rate, girls have a much higher risk.
  • Family history

Complications of Scoliosis

While most people with scoliosis have a mild form of the disorder, scoliosis may sometimes cause complications, including:

Lung and heart damage - In severe scoliosis, the rib cage may press against the lungs and heart, making it more difficult to breathe and harder for the heart to pump.

Back problems - Adults who had scoliosis as children are more likely to have chronic back pain than are people in the general population.

Appearance - As scoliosis worsens, it can cause more noticeable changes — including uneven hips and shoulders, prominent ribs, and a shift of the waist and trunk to the side. Individuals with scoliosis often become self-conscious about their appearance.

Treatment

Children who have mild scoliosis are monitored with X-rays, to see if the curve is worsening. Often, no treatment is necessary. In other cases, some children will need to wear a brace to stop the curve from worsening. Others may need surgery to keep the scoliosis from worsening and to straighten severe cases of scoliosis.