Diseases & Conditions


What is Scoliosis?

Scoliosis is an abnormal, sideways curvature of the spine. Instead of the spine being straight, it develops an "S" or "C" shape when viewed from the back. The condition can affect people of any age, but it most commonly develops during the growth spurt that occurs just before puberty. The cause of most childhood scoliosis is unknown, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Scoliosis is typically measured in degrees. A curve of 10 to 25 degrees is considered mild, 25 to 40 degrees is moderate, and 40 degrees or more is severe.

Mild scoliosis often does not require treatment. However, moderate to severe scoliosis can cause pain, deformity, and other complications. Treatment for scoliosis may include bracing, physical therapy, or surgery.

Are There Different Types of Scoliosis?

There are several types of scoliosis, including:

• Idiopathic scoliosis: The most common type which has no known cause. It often appears during adolescence.

• Congenital scoliosis: This type is present at birth and occurs due to abnormal spinal development in the womb.

• Neuromuscular scoliosis: This results from conditions such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injuries, which affect the nerves and muscles that control the spine.

• Degenerative scoliosis: This type occurs in older adults due to the wear and tear of the spinal discs and joints, resulting in curvature over time.

What are the Symptoms of Scoliosis?

The symptoms of scoliosis can vary depending on the severity and location of the curvature. Mild cases may not cause any noticeable symptoms, while more severe cases can lead to:

  • A noticeable curve in the spine when viewed from the back
  • Uneven shoulders or hips
  • One shoulder or hip higher than the other
  • A rib cage that appears uneven
  • A tilted head
  • Difficulty standing or sitting up straight
  • Pain in the back, shoulders, or hips.

What Causes Scoliosis?

The exact cause of scoliosis is usually unknown (referred to as idiopathic scoliosis). However, there are several factors that may contribute to the development of scoliosis:

Idiopathic scoliosis: This form of scoliosis occurs without a known cause, although researchers believe it may involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors. It often appears during adolescence and is more common in girls than boys.

Congenital scoliosis: This type of scoliosis is present at birth and results from abnormal spinal development in the womb. It occurs due to a failure of the vertebrae to form properly or fuse together.

Neuromuscular conditions: Scoliosis can be associated with underlying neuromuscular disorders such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, or spinal cord injuries. These conditions affect the nerves and muscles that control the spine, leading to an imbalance and curvature.

Degenerative scoliosis: As people age, the spinal discs and joints can deteriorate, leading to degenerative scoliosis. This condition is caused by wear and tear on the spine that occurs over time and is most common in adults, primarily affects older adults and is typically associated with the natural aging process and spinal degeneration.

Other factors: Some cases of scoliosis may be caused by factors such as connective tissue disorders, spinal infections or tumors, or previous spine surgeries.

In addition to the causes listed above, there are some other factors that may increase the risk of developing scoliosis, such as:

  • Family history: If you have a family history of scoliosis, you are more likely to develop it yourself.
  • Rapid growth: Scoliosis is more common during periods of rapid growth, such as during puberty.
  • Gender: Scoliosis is more common in girls than in boys.
  • Genetics: There are some genes that have been linked to scoliosis, but the exact role of genetics is not fully understood.

It's important to note that while certain factors may contribute to the development of scoliosis, the condition can also occur without any known cause. Regular check-ups and screenings by healthcare professionals can help detect scoliosis early and determine the appropriate course of treatment if needed.

At What Age Does Scoliosis Typically Develop?

Idiopathic scoliosis, the most common type of scoliosis, typically develops during childhood or adolescence. The age range can vary, but it most commonly appears just before puberty during the rapid growth phase.

The three main age groups associated with idiopathic scoliosis are:

  • Infantile idiopathic scoliosis: This type of scoliosis occurs in children under the age of 3. It is relatively rare and affects boys more often than girls.
  • Juvenile idiopathic scoliosis: This type of scoliosis typically develops between the ages of 3 and 10. It affects both boys and girls, but girls have a higher risk of progression and more severe curves.
  • Adolescent idiopathic scoliosis: This is the most common type and typically occurs between the ages of 10 and 18. It is more common in girls, and the onset often coincides with the growth spurt that precedes puberty.

It's important to note that idiopathic scoliosis can progress during periods of rapid growth. Regular monitoring and screenings are crucial during these ages to detect any significant changes in the curvature of the spine. Early detection allows for appropriate management and treatment options, if necessary.

How is Scoliosis Diagnosed and Treated?

Diagnosis of scoliosis typically involves a physical examination, followed by imaging tests such as X-rays or MRI scans to determine the extent of the curvature. Treatment options depend on factors such as the severity of the curvature, the age of the individual, and the risk of progression. Treatment may include wearing a brace to prevent further progression of the curve in moderate cases, in severe cases, surgery to straighten the spine.

Each case of scoliosis is different, and the most appropriate treatment plan will be determined by a spine care specialist.

Click here to learn more about the diagnosis and treatment of scoliosis. 

© Copyright 2017 Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. All rights reserved.

This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, part of Mubadala Healthcare, and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

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