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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.
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Most cases of scoliosis begin when a child is around 8-10 years old with gradual progression of the abnormal curvature as they continue to grow.
There are several types and classifications of scoliosis.
Structural scoliosis occurs because of a vertebral body defect. Classification of structural scoliosis is based on the cause of the defect:
- Congenital—occurs during fetal development
- Syndromic—occurs as a result of an underlying health condition that affects the nerves, muscles, or bones in the back and spine
- Idiopathic—occurs without a specific cause, but is likely due to a combination of multiple genetic factors
They may also be classified by age at onset as infant, juvenile, or adolescent.
Functional scoliosis is the result of an underlying condition that affects the alignment of the spine due to muscle imbalances, differing leg lengths, or other health conditions that cause the muscles to tense and spasm.
This type of scoliosis can be reversed by treating the underlying condition.
Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated June 8, 2015. Accessed December 23, 2015.
Altaf F, Gibson A, Dannawi Z, Noordeen H. Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. BMJ. 2013;346:f2508.
Idiopathic scoliosis in children and adolescents. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00353. Updated March 2015. Accessed December 21, 2013.
Questions and answers about scoliosis in children and adolescents. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health%5FInfo/Scoliosis/default.asp. Updated July 2013. Accessed December 23, 2015.
Trobisch P, Suess O, Schwab F. Idiopathic scoliosis. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2010;107(49):875-883.
What is scoliosis? Fast Facts: An Easy-to-Read Series of Publications for the Public. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health%5FInfo/Scoliosis/scoliosis%5Fff.asp. Updated November 2014. Accessed December 23, 2015.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 12/2015
- Update Date: 12/20/2014