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Conditions InDepth: Scoliosis

Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine. Instead of going from top to bottom in a relatively straight line, a spine with scoliosis may appear to have a side-to-side “S-shaped” or “C-shaped” curve. Mild degrees of scoliosis won’t cause you any problems. However, more severe cases of scoliosis can result in pain, weakness, and low self-esteem because of obvious cosmetic deformity. Very severe scoliosis may cause heart and lung problems if those organs are overly cramped in an abnormally shaped chest cavity.

Scoliosis

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Scoliosis is usually classified by the age at which it appears to have begun:

Infantile: between birth and age 3 (very rare)

Juvenile: from age 3 to age 10

Adolescent: over age 10 (most common)

Most cases of scoliosis begin when a child is around 8 or 10 years old, and the abnormal curvature may progress as the child continues to grow.

Although there are some medical conditions that are associated with an increased risk of scoliosis, no one knows exactly what causes most cases of scoliosis. Therefore, the vast majority of cases are considered idiopathic, which means of unknown origin. The most common type of scoliosis (adolescent scoliosis) is idiopathic. Infantile and juvenile scoliosis may be:

Functional or Nonstructural: This type occurs when the spine appears abnormal due to muscle spasms that are temporarily pulling it out of alignment, or due to one leg being shorter than the other.

Structural: This type occurs when the spine itself is abnormal due to another medical condition, such as a birth defect (including spina bifida and meningomyelocele), muscular dystrophy , spinal tumor, cerebral palsy , injury, or Marfan syndrome .

Scoliosis affects about three to four of every 1,000 people.

What are the risk factors for scoliosis?
What are the symptoms of scoliosis?
How is scoliosis diagnosed?
What are the treatments for scoliosis?
Are there screening tests for scoliosis?
How can I reduce my risk of scoliosis?
What questions should I ask my doctor?
What is it like to live with scoliosis?
Where can I get more information about scoliosis?

References:

American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.aaos.org/ .

Campbell’s Operative Orthopaedics. 10th ed. Mosby; 2003.

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/ .

Scoliosis Research Society website. Available at: http://www.srs.org/ .



Last reviewed August 2008 by Robert E. Leach, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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