What is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis is a medical condition when the spine has a sideways curve, usually in an ‘S’ shape. The spine may also be rotated.

The major types of scoliosis include:

  • Congenital scoliosis - due to congenital birth defects in the spine, often associated with other organ defects
  • Degenerative scoliosis - due to degeneration of the discs separating the vertebrae or arthritis in the joints that link them. This type of scoliosis occurs later in life.
  • Neuromuscular scoliosis - due to loss of control of the nerves or muscles that support the spine (commonly from cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy)
  • Scoliosis of unknown cause (idiopathic) - one of the most common forms of scoliosis that usually occurs in childhood or adolescence.

Scoliosis can be mild, moderate or severe.

The causes of scoliosis vary by type. The condition is not caused by carrying heavy objects (such as heavy school bags on one shoulder), sports or physical activities, poor standing or sleeping postures.

The vast majority of people with scoliosis has no symptom. Signs of scoliosis can be noticeable and detected in early childhood, which include:

  • ‘S’-shaped curve in the back when standing
  • A tilt in the waistline
  • Curving of the body to one side when viewed from the front or back
  • One breast appears higher than the other in women
  • One shoulder appears higher than the other

Scoliosis is usually detected in school children in a screening by the Student Health Service that observes for trunk asymmetry when the child bends forward.

Treatments may include:

  • Bracing to stop progression of spinal curve. It does not reduce the curve that is already present
  • Observation for mild curves less than 25 degrees
  • Deformity correction surgery is recommended for growing children with curves greater than 40 degrees and for patients at any age with curves over 50 degrees:
    • To prevent further progression of the curve
    • To control the curve when brace treatment is unsuccessful
    • To improve the cosmetic appearance
    • To reduce discomfort or postural fatigue

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