What is it?
Scoliosis is a disorder in which there is a sideways curve of the spine. Curves are often S-shaped or C-shaped. In most people, there is no known cause for this curve. Curves frequently follow patterns that have been studied in previous patients (see "Curved patterns of the spine" diagram).
People with milder curves may only need to visit their doctor for regular check-ups. Some people who have scoliosis need treatment.
Who gets it?
People of all ages can have scoliosis. The most common type has no known cause and occurs in children age 10 to 12 and in their early teens. Girls are more likely than boys to have this type of scoliosis. You are more likely to have scoliosis if your parent, brother or sister have it.
What are the symptoms?
Scoliosis is a disorder in which there is a sideways curve of the spine. Signs of scoliosis can include:
- Uneven shoulders.
- Head that is not centered.
- Sides of the body are not level with each other.
- One side of the rib cage is higher than the other when bending forward.
What causes it?
In most people with scoliosis, the cause is not known. In some cases, there is a known cause.
Doctors classify curves as:
- Nonstructural, which is when the spine is structurally normal and the curve is temporary. In these cases, the doctor will try to find and correct the cause.
- Structural, which is when the spine has a fixed curve. The cause could be a disease, injury, infection, birth defect, or unknown.
Is there a test?
Your doctor may do the following to diagnosis you with scoliosis:
- Medical history to look for medical problems that might be causing your spine to curve.
- Physical examination to look at your back, chest, pelvis, legs, feet, and skin.
- X-rays to measure the curve of the spine. This information is used to determine how to treat scoliosis.
How is it treated?
Your doctor may recommend the following treatments:
- Observation. If the curve is mild and you are still growing, your doctor will re-examine you every few months.
- Bracing. If the curve is moderate and you are still growing, your doctor may recommend a brace to keep the curve from getting worse. Braces are selected for the specific curve problem and fitted to each patient. Braces must be worn every day for the full number of hours prescribed by the doctor.
- Surgery. If you are still growing and have a severe curve that is getting worse, your doctor may suggest surgery. This often involves fusing together two or more bones in the spine. The doctor may also put in a metal rod or other device to help keep the spine straight after surgery. You should seek the advice of at least two experts, and ask about the benefits and risks of the surgery.
The following treatments have not been shown to keep curves from getting worse in scoliosis:
- Chiropractic treatment.
- Electrical stimulation.
- Nutritional supplements.
Living With It
Exercise programs have not been shown to keep scoliosis from getting worse. But it is important for all people, including those with scoliosis, to exercise and remain physically fit. Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, running, soccer, and gymnastics, helps keep bones strong. For both boys and girls, exercising and playing sports can improve their sense of well-being.