What is scoliosis?
A normal spine, when viewed from behind, appears straight. However, a spine affected by scoliosis shows evidence of a lateral, or side-by-side curvature, with the spine looking like an "S" or "C" and a rotation of the back bones (vertebrae), giving the appearance that the person is leaning to one side. The Scoliosis Research Society defines scoliosis as a curvature of the spine measuring 10 degrees or greater.
Scoliosis is a type of spinal deformity and should not be confused with poor posture.
Spinal curvature from scoliosis may occur on the right or left side of the spine, or on both sides in different sections. Both the thoracic (mid) and lumbar (lower) spine may be affected by scoliosis.
What causes scoliosis?
In over 80 percent of cases, the cause of scoliosis is unknown — a condition called idiopathic scoliosis. Scoliosis is more common in females than males.
According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, three to five out of every 1,000 children develop spinal curves that are considered large enough to require treatment.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, in cooperation with the Scoliosis Research Society, describe three different types of scoliosis that can occur in children — congenital (present at birth), neuromuscular, or idiopathic:
What are the symptoms of scoliosis?
The following are the most common symptoms of scoliosis. However, each child may experience symptoms differently.
Symptoms may include:
Back pain, leg pain, and changes in bowel and bladder habits are not commonly associated with idiopathic scoliosis. A child experiencing these types of symptoms requires immediate medical evaluation by a physician.
The symptoms of scoliosis may resemble other spinal conditions or deformities, or may be a result of an injury or infection. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.
How is scoliosis diagnosed?
In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, X-rays (a diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film) are the primary diagnostic tool for scoliosis. In establishing a diagnosis of scoliosis, the physician measures the degree of spinal curvature on the X-ray.
The following other diagnostic procedures may be performed for nonidiopathic curvatures, atypical curve patterns, or congenital scoliosis:
What is the treatment for scoliosis?Specific treatment of scoliosis will be determined by your child's physician based on:
Treatment may include:
What is the long-term outlook for a child with scoliosis?
The management of scoliosis is individualized for each child depending on his or her age, amount of curvature, and amount of time remaining for skeletal growth. Scoliosis will require frequent examinations by your child's physician to monitor the curve as your child grows and develops. Early detection is important. If left untreated, scoliosis can cause problems with heart and lung function.