What Is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine, which is usually straight and vertical. When looked at from the side, everyone's spine shows a bit of roundness in the upper part of the back as well as a bit of an inward curvature in the lower part of the back. When an individual with a normal spine is looked at from the back or front, their spine will appear to be straight. When someone with scoliosis is looked at from the back or front, his spine will appear to be curved.

What Are The Symptoms of Scoliosis?

The symptoms and signs most commonly linked to scoliosis include:

  • Shoulders that are not leveled
  • One shoulder blade will protrude more than the other
  • An uneven waist
  • Uneven hips (one side higher than the other)

If the scoliosis symptoms get worse, the spine may also twist or rotate, in addition to curving to the sides. This will cause the ribcage to stick out on one side of the body more than the other. Patients suffering from the most severe cases of scoliosis will have excruciating back pain and difficulty breathing.

What Causes Scoliosis?

Scoliosis can be caused by a few different things. Here are some of the main types of scoliosis that exist and what causes them:

  • Idiopathic scoliosis- Although this is the most common type of scoliosis, the studies on what causes this type of scoliosis are not yet conclusive, although there are quite a few theories. There is strong evidence that suggests this type of scoliosis is inherited.
  • Congenital scoliosis- This type of scoliosis is present at birth and is caused by a slight or severe bone abnormality.
  • Degenerative scoliosis- This type of scoliosis is often caused by a traumatic bone collapse (caused by an illness or injury), a major back surgery, or due to thinning of the bones (osteoporosis).
  • Neuromuscular Scoliosis- This type of scoliosis is most often seen in individuals who have spina bifida, cerebral palsy, or similar conditions.

Who is Susceptible to Scoliosis?

Less than 4% of Americans will have scoliosis by the time they turn 16. Less than 0.1% of those who have scoliosis will have a curve that measures more than 40 degrees, which is normally when surgery may be necessary. Females are more likely to suffer from scoliosis than males. Adolescents between the ages of 10 through 16 are most commonly affected by Idiopathic scoliosis. It is widely believed that Idiopathic scoliosis affecting adolescents is due to a ""growth spurt,"" that many experience.

How Is Scoliosis Diagnosed?

Most cases of scoliosis curves are detected during school health screening exams, yearly checkup, or at home by a parent. Doctors do a careful bone exam and perform an X-ray to determine what the degree of the curve and type of scoliosis it is.

What Type Of Treatment Is Available For Scoliosis?

Most adolescents who have scoliosis are observed and examined every four to six months. Treatments for serious cases of scoliosis include:

  • Braces- Adolescents who suffer from a curve that between 25 to 40 degrees, whose bones are still maturing will often be treated with braces. Bracing stops the progression of the curve and will temporarily correct the curve. Unfortunately, this is not a long-term treatment and the curve will return when the brace is removed.
  • Surgery- For those whose curvatures are beyond 40 to 50 degrees there is scoliosis surgery. Although the surgery does not fully realign the spine, it does prevent it from getting worse. The procedure involves a doctor implanting metallic pieces which will correct some of the curves and maintain it in the right position until a bone graft it added for a more permanent finish. Scoliosis surgery, where vertebrae are attached, is called a spinal fusion. This treatment is not done to children because it would stunt their growth.

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